Social Entrepreneurism: Tacos 4 Life

Above: Harding student Alex Stroud takes orders during opening week in the Searcy location.

Here at the Waldron Center, we frequently encounter students with ideas for a business that integrates their talents and values for a higher purpose. In the past decade, the United States has seen an increase in the number of such startups, described by business academics as “social entrepreneurism.” This missional approach to business is designed to create a revenue stream to attack on a community problem.

Ashton and Austin Samuelson of Conway, Arkansas, are Searcy’s newest and most successful exposure to the business-as-mission concept. Inspired by the plight of the homeless while living in Los Angeles, they developed a vision for helping to solve what they see as the “most solvable problem in the world: hunger. With their slogan “Buy a meal. Give a meal. Meal for meal,” the first Tacos4Life Grill opened in Conway on June 9, 2014. The chain now serves Tex-Mex-inspired fast casual cuisine in colorful, funky surroundings in Conway, Little Rock, Benton, Fayetteville, and most recently Searcy at the location on East Race Street across from Unity Medical Center.

The concept is simple: For every every taco, quesadilla, salad, or rice bowl sold, the restaurant donates 22 cents to its partner Feed My Starving Children to purchase, pack and distribute MannaPacks to areas of high food insecurity. A MannaPack is a proprietary blend of rice, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables, vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients designed to meet the nutritional needs of malnourished children. Each vacuum-sealed MannaPack, on display at every Tacos4Life, provides six meals.


The concept has become so successful that there are locations opening this year in Jonesboro, Springdale, Rogers; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Frisco, Texas. Franchise opportunities are available to mission-minded investors.

Each year, Tacos4Life publishes dates on their website, and people sign up in droves to help assemble and pack the meals for shipping. The process is called a MobilePack, and it’s a joyous community happening. The system for mobilizing volunteer labor is highly refined for quality control and efficiency. At last year’s Conway MobilePack, 2,438 smiling school groups, families, homeschoolers and grandparents, wearing gloves and hairnets, packed 558,144 meals — enough to feed 1,529 children in Swaziland every day for a year. After brief training and sorting into teams, volunteers at processing stations, energized by music and goodwill, measure and weigh ingredients, vacuum seal plastic bags, and pack them into boxes. At the end of the two-hour shift, the crew watches a video offering a boots-on-the-ground perspective about the need in the Swaziland where these very meals will eventually be unloaded from a shipping container and served. When you leave a MobilePack, you feel like you’ve spent two hours doing something that matters.

So let me offer a couple of suggestions for you. First: Eat at Tacos4Life and get acquainted with their excellent food, mission and cool vibe. Second: Take part in a MobilePack. The next MobilePack will take place at the Little Rock Convention Center on Sept. 16. Check out this link, grab some friends, and volunteer. You’ll be glad you did.

*Feed My Starving Children has the highest (four-star) rating on Charity Navigator, spending 87.3 percent of its total expenses directly on the programs and services it delivers, rather than on overhead.



Waldron Q & A

Name: Slader Marshall (BBA Finance, ’14)

Type of business: Restaurant

Business name: Slader’s Alaskan Dumpling Co. (SADCo.)

Year started: 2014

Locations:  Searcy/Little Rock, Arkansas


It all started as a dream. “Not a lofty one, but one of those that you can’t really get out of your head,” according to Slader Marshall. Since the Alaskan entrepreneur was able to return home only once or twice a year after coming to study at Harding, he was determined to bring his home to college by sharing pel’meni, the Alaskan soul food dumplings from his childhood, with his adopted community.


From their first dumpling in 2014 to today, the startup has expanded from a single restaurant in a modest building on East Center Avenue to a successful food truck business, operating in Searcy and Little Rock.

This week’s Q&A digs a little deeper into Marshall’s thoughts about being a young, hungry, scrappy entrepreneur.

What personality traits do you think served you best as you started your business, and which traits might have been a disadvantage?

Confidence could be answer to both. You have to have unwavering confidence to start a business because, without it, you can’t project to your employees and your customers why they should believe in your product. On the flip side, confidence can humble you quicker than most personality traits. I have said to anyone who asks what it’s like to start a business that you should go into the process like you know nothing at all. Finding a good balance between confidence and humility is a great place to start your business planning.

What advice would you give a college student who wants to become an entrepreneur?

First, ask questions: stupid questions, smart questions — it doesn’t matter. Pick people’s brains who have been there before, and admit you don’t have all the answers. Second, start small, build big. It’s a lot easier to start with a little idea and grow along with your customer base than it is to have all the nicest things and the best space and have nowhere to grow. Finally, find your niche. Whether it is the target market you cater to or the type product you sell, finding your niche is the single biggest predictor of business success or failure. We serve a non-traditional food, so I knew right off the bat that not everyone would like it. I knew in Searcy there was a void of local restaurants and also a void of places that were catering to college students, who I thought would be more willing to try eclectic foods compared to a family of four on a fixed budget. So I found my niche.

Name a company or person in business whom you admire and explain what appeals to you about them.

My two biggest inspirations have been Walt Disney and Elon Musk, men from two different generations and from two different fields, who tried to make the impossible a reality. For Disney, it was not the cartoons or the live-action films or theme parks, but the feeling you had when experiencing all those things; it was the “magic” Disney created out of nothing that no one will ever be able to replicate. Musk inspires the passion to dream. Whether it is electric cars or privatized flights to Mars, he set his sights on the stars and encouraged anyone in this field that you should never let anyone tell you no. Entrepreneurs are dreamers, and those are two of the biggest.

For updates, follow Slader’s Alaskan Dumpling Co. on Facebook.

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