Working in the food industry, Geoffrey Simpson has witnessed how much still-edible food gets thrown out by restaurants, grocers and other food sellers because expiration dates are approaching or it no longer looks perfect. He also sees homeless people in need of hot meals. So he connected the good with the need via his nonprofit Hippie-Que Food Truck.
Every Tuesday and Saturday, Jacksonville cook Geoffrey Simpson applies his culinary talents to donated food that would otherwise go to waste.
In an 8- by 14-foot food truck called Hippie-Que, he makes magic.
His homeless customers expect a burger or peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
But the hot meal they receive for free might be chicken fajitas with red cabbage slaw, smoked brisket or Philly cheese steak. Fried dumplings with dough made of apple sauce and flour or Sloppy Joes on brioche buns.
They deserve the best he can do with the ingredients available, Simpson said.
“That’s somebody’s brother, son, father, daughter,” he said.
Simpson, 33, has been a full-time cook for Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q for 15 years. He has never been to culinary school but has learned his way around food.
Working in the food industry, he has also witnessed how much food gets thrown out by restaurants, grocers and other food sellers because expiration dates are approaching or it no longer looks perfect. But it is still safe for consumption.
“All still good food,” he said. “It blows my mind. ... So much waste.”
He has also seen homeless people around town — one living in a tree — who he figured could use a hot meal.
So Simpson fixed up an old truck and restaurant equipment he was collecting in his backyard, got the required permits and founded a nonprofit business called Hippie-Que Food Truck. Twice a week, on his days off from work, he obtains food and drinks from restaurants, grocers and food sellers or from organizations such as Orange Park-based Waste Not Want Not that collect and distribute such “rescued” food.
Based on those varying daily supplies, he comes up with a menu to feed as many as 50 people.
“I’m just creating food as I go,” he said. “Whatever I get I take and I repurpose it.”
Then Simpson drives his truck to locations where he knows homeless people congregate. A line quickly forms at the truck’s order-window and he hands over hot meals and drinks.
Some of his customers are surprised when they see they’re getting more than soup and a sandwich.
“These people were so happy. ... to get something else to eat,” he said. “They say, ‘Thank you, God bless you, you’re amazing.’ I say the same thing back to them.”
The food truck’s name — Hippie-Que — stemmed from listening to the Grateful Dead when he was thinking about the idea, combined with his Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q roots.
Josh Martino, president of Bono’s, said he is a proud boss.
“I have known Geoffrey for a long time. He is one of our most loyal and hardworking employees,” he said.
Bono’s has a philanthropic component — among other things, when fundraisers are held at its restaurants, the company donates 15 percent of every bill to the cause — but Simpson created and developed his food truck idea all on his own. He is a “shining example” for others, Martino said.
“We take no credit for it. ... He has taken this to heart,” he said. “He is like a Swiss army knife. He can do anything.”
In September, Simpson entered Hippie-Que in the Block by Block Food Insecurity Challenge, a statewide competition seeking innovative ideas to address food insecurity in Florida. The challenge was sponsored by GuideWell, parent company of Florida Blue.
In the Northeast Florida regional event, he did not win one of the three $2,000 semi-finalist spots, but judges were so impressed that they created a fourth $2,000 award for community service.
“Geoffrey’s dedication and passion toward reducing hunger in Jacksonville’s homeless population was felt by everyone in the room,” said Kirstie McCool, executive director of GuideWell Innovation. “It humbled me to learn about his daily routine of driving his truck to pick up excess foods and then creatively using what he picked up to cook hot meals for those in need. Geoffrey is a special person, and is truly making a difference in the Jacksonville community.”