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A CDFI Story of Propelling a Veteran-Owned Small Business Forward with Financing

Financial and Social Impact

  • Don and the Mess Hall team employ veterans in Orange County, California
  • Merchandise proceeds and 100% of tips for Mess Hall cooks are donated to veteran services nonprofit, Patriots and Paws

“They’re not a secret anymore— these tator tots are going to be famous.”

That’s what Don McPeck said as he unveiled a new menu option for his food truck, Mess Hall Canteen. Don and his son Jake, a chef, opened the gourmet food truck after winning Food Network’s Food Truck Faceoff. The duo’s prize was a one-year lease on a custom-built truck. After a year, however, Don needed financing to purchase the truck if he wanted to keep the Mess Hall open.

With his business’s buzz booming but its lease closing, Don began exploring his financial options. The truck’s manufacturer, Kareem’s Carts, connected Don with Opportunity Fund, as part of a unique partnership between the manufacturer and CDFI. Kareem’s regularly works with Opportunity Fund to create financing options for untested mobile food businesses that show good potential and are ready to purchase their vehicles. The SoCal-based CDFI worked with the father and son to finance a $77,000 loan to purchase Mess Hall Canteen’s truck.

“Opportunity Fund made it really easy to get financing,” Don said. “We didn’t have the money to buy the truck outright. Opportunity Fund made it happen for us.”

Don, a veteran, drew inspiration for Mess Hall Canteen from his days in the Army. With Jake’s culinary expertise, Mess Hall Canteen is earning a reputation in Orange County, California for its over-the-top mess hall-style chow. Supersized menu options include Drunken Sailor Grilled Cheese, with lobster, snow crab, bacon, and masago aioli on cheddar, and the Major Beef Tator Tots, topped with shredded beef, BBQ sauce, mac-n-cheese, extra cheese sauce, and chipotle aioli.

Don’s military experience is the foundation for Mess Hall Canteen’s vision and mission. The business hires Orange County veterans, and its employees donate merchandise proceeds and 100% of tips to Patriots & Paws, a nonprofit that services transitioning military personnel with companion animals and home furnishings.

Don plans to expand the Mess Hall Canteen brand by adding a truck in Downtown Disney, Disneyland, and a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

(Date of loan: Jun. 2016 Date of story publication: Aug. 2017)