Tacos 4 Life

January 29, 2015

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Many of us start college thinking we know exactly what we want to do and where we want to be after we graduate, but the reality is that sometimes we end up with a job that didn’t even exist five years prior. This was the case for recent Ouachita grads Kristen Young and her husband, Justin.

“Justin and I had jobs locked in at Tyson Foods whenever we graduated and got married. January of our senior year rolled around and we started to feel unrest about taking that certain job, but we kind of ignored it,” says Kristen. But the longer the couple ignored it, the more strongly they felt that God was calling them to use their talents to work in tandem with their passion for missions. They started applying for all sorts of jobs (Kristen in communications and public relations, Justin in business), but one in particular stood out. One of their final inquiries in their search for a job led them to Austin and Ashton Samuelson, Ouachita alumni Justin knew through the Hickingbotham School of Business.

The Samuelsons opened Pitza42, a restaurant that serves pita bread “pitzas,” wraps, soups and salads, in Conway in 2011 with the promise of giving a meal to a child in need for every meal purchased in the restaurant. The restaurant became wildly popular in Conway, and the Youngs sought to partner with the Samuelsons to open another Pitza42 with the same mission of providing a meal for every meal sold. But rather than continuing the Samuelsons’ work at Pitza42, Kristen says God had other plans for the couple.

“They had been praying for a young couple with the same heart for missions to come along and help them expand,” she said. “We thought we would work at Pitza, but that wasn’t God’s plan! So we helped open Tacos4Life.”

Opened earlier this year, Kristen describes Tacos4Life as “a trendy, eclectic restaurant that serves 17 unique tacos, quesadillas, burritos, rice bowls and more, with the same meal for meal model.” The “meal for meal model” refers to the system in which two meals come out of one—the restaurant donates 22 cents per taco sold to Feed My Starving Children, providing one meal for a hungry child. Tacos4Life plans to send food to a different country specific to every store they open, with the intent of sharing the gospel along with meals. The on-ground organization the restaurant sends food to in Swaziland, Africa, builds relationships with the communities and builds the children up, ultimately sharing the gospel with them. This is why Tacos4Life sees one  meal as so much more than just a meal—every meal has the potential to change a child’s life.

The new restaurant has also been a huge hit in Conway, and there are even more plans to expand. “Our goal working with Tacos4Life, as a management team, is to feed one million kids a day,” says Kristen. “To achieve that, we need to open about 1,000 restaurants nationwide.” While this may seem like a lofty goal with only two restaurants open at the moment, the Tacos4Life team is taking steps to reach it. A Fayetteville location is in the works to open by June of next summer, with more locations sure to follow.

The time the two spent at Ouachita prepared them well for their work with Tacos4Life, Kristen says. Justin helped start Dr. Jack’s coffee, a place with which all students are familiar, which developed his love for business and missions. Kristen did photography work study all of her four years at Ouachita, and feels that it helped her develop her skills in marketing and social media. “In a general way, Ouachita prepared me to work hard, plan events, communicate well and effectively, network, serve, invest in others, work on a deadline,” Kristen says. “I loved that Ouachita always gave me real-world opportunities.”

While we may still be living in the bubble, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to get involved with the cause that Pitza42 and Tacos4Life have created. At about an hour and a half drive from Arkadelphia, both Conway restaurants are worth the drive for the quality of the food and the heart behind it. Kristen encourages current Ouachita students to follow @tacos4lifegrill on Twitter and Instagram to stay updated on how God is working in the restaurant and to help get the word out about their mission. She also encourages students to take part in the restaurant’s Mobile Pack on April 15-18 at New Life Church in Conway to help pack the meals the restaurant has raised.

Ouachita grads have a tendency to make incredible differences in the world, and the Youngs are no exception.

“It’s so awesome because we are not just providing food for children, but ultimately the gospel,” Kristen says. “In about six months of being open, Tacos4Life has raised 182,813 meals for hungry children.”

As of Jan. 28, Tacos4Life has provided 234,991 meals and the number climbs every day, with every meal pointing back to the love of Christ.

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