The mission and work of Joslyn Hawkins, Founder of Bloom
It’s no secret that wellness is a hot topic as of late, but how many of us are really doing something that impacts the wellness of entire communities? Cue the pandemic entering the scene and the need for community wellness became even more clear to Joslyn Hawkins, the founder of Bloom, a rural Iowa food truck whose mission is to increase accessibility to whole foods and promote wellness that Blooms from within. Joslyn inspires us through her willingness to take a risk on a new business venture, leaving her full-time job, and through her dedication to offering healthy options to fuel people in her community.
We got to chat with her to find out what inspired her to launch Bloom and what fuels her passion for herself and others to, “Bloom from Within.”
Start by giving us a quick overview of what Bloom is and what makes it unique.
Bloom is a rural Iowa community food truck that specializes in açaí bowls, smoothies and fresh snacks. Our mission is to increase accessibility to whole foods in rural communities and promote wellness that starts from within- hence our name, “Bloom.” We believe that you are in full bloom when you start by doing the work from within, not just with your diet but also mind and spirit. This is our why and we are rooted deep in the mission to help build strong communities.
What inspired you to create Bloom?
What Bloom is today was not what I had envisioned from the start. Bloom started from a feeling, and much reflection. I have a masters degree in Speech Language Pathology and practice in the school setting. Last year, when routines resumed back to somewhat normal after COVID, I continued to feel largely burnt out. As an educator, things were not getting any easier when it felt like they should be. My caseload was climbing, responsibilities increasing, and I felt like I wasn’t able to be the very best SLP I could be. I went to my boss in the middle of the winter and said this is the idea I have and I would like to go part time. This request was not granted until 6 months later. I knew I had to follow my heart though and the rest would fall into place.
I sat with my husband and we talked about our work and how daily we see people whose wellness is not well. My husband is a physician assistant who practices family medicine at a rural health clinic. Rural health can often feel like you are managing medications and continuously adding medication onto a daily regime, instead of targeting the root problem which is taking control of their health and wellness. In my work I observed how students come to school tired and inattentive; I believe this is largely due to students´ lack of fueling their bodies with good energy to help them access the learning that they are presented with. Starting Bloom felt like a teeny tiny step in the right direction but I knew this work was important and would be meaningful.
As a proudly woman owned business, Bloom sets a great example for female entrepreneurs to look to — Before Bloom did you ever expect to be an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur has always been on my heart, but I never imagined myself taking this leap of faith! Feeling protected by my 8-5 job that has good benefits and a regular schedule felt comfortable to me. My first decision to become an entrepreneur did not start with the truck or anything physical. It simply started by me telling those closest to me that this is what I was going to do. Telling others held me accountable to my word and I began focusing on one task at a time. There were so many unanswered questions, what ifs and things to learn but I jumped in and have given it my all.
Did you always know that you wanted to create a career in food?
I have worked in the food industry since I was 15 years old. I love serving people and even after graduating with my masters I have continued to serve in the food industry on the side! I had no intentions to make food service such a large part of my life though.
What is something about nutrition and food that you have learned in your journey of creating great-tasting and health-conscious food options and treats that might shock people?
Ingredient labels are incredibly difficult to read and can be so misleading! There’s a lot of information out there on nutrition, diets, working out, etc., and it seems as if everyone always has the secret to living a better life. I believe there’s a major link missing and that is a human’s ability to simply know what fuels your body and what does not. We have become so disconnected from our food and food sources that a large percentage of Americans’ baseline health is feeling bogged down. They don’t even know how good they could feel just by taking control of their health.
What role does nutrition play in your life outside of just Bloom, specifically?
Growing up in rural Iowa as a kid I ate and drank whatever I wanted without restrictions. I had no clue what nutrition meant. The importance of movement was known so I participated in numerous sports and danced, but I had no clue how to fuel my body to perform its best. When I met my husband in college is when I began to learn more about nutrition and health. This is when I began to cut out processed foods from our meals and worked out on a regular basis.
How do you come up with the menu? Why did you choose to offer dairy-free and gluten-free options?
I knew from the start that I wanted acai to be what Bloom did best. When I was in college, I had the amazing opportunity to live for a short while in Hawaii for internships. During this time I fell in love with this delicious island treat and I wanted to bring it back to Iowa. I knew that acai was going to be very new to people in our communities so I decided to also come up with a few staple smoothies as most people are familiar with those. I also wanted quick snacks that were convenient and filling to grab on the fly. In the dead of the winter I began making acai bowls daily at home, tweaking the mixture a little each time. I laugh at the first time I made acai to the product we are producing today; it was literally BROWN SLUSH. I made our menu items over a hundred times before I found the perfect combination that I thought others in our community would love just as much. I also wanted our products to be accessible to those who have allergens. Therefore we made all our products dairy free. We also have gluten free options and peanut free products so that our products can be enjoyed by all! Our homemade popsicle, a Bloom Pop, has a new flavor every other week so that children have the opportunity to try several different fruits that they may have not experienced before.
Did anyone ever tell you that Bloom might not make it? How did you overcome the obstacle of being doubted?
Absolutely, I had some of my closest family members doubt what I was doing telling me directly that it was not a good idea to leave my 8-5 job to sell “fruit bowls.” Others said that Bloom would never be supported by the communities that I planned to serve. Thankfully there were more people who were intrigued and interested by the idea. I kept my blinders on and focused on what needed to be done next to ensure success.
How do you figure out how to launch a food truck business/the logistics of starting a new business?
In all honesty, I had no clue what I was doing. My college education was focused on science and education, not business. I went in blindly unsure of the “formal” rules to starting a small business. I sat down and crunched hypothetical numbers and weighed in all the “what if’s.” My business plan was on excel sheets and google docs that I made from scratch. There was absolutely nothing like this in my area so I was very unsure of the actual potential that Bloom could have. A friend directed me to the “Small Business Development Center” where I was directed to a professional who helped provide assistance and counseling to start, launch and grow Bloom. Thank you Janine Clover! I also started talking to other small business owners that had businesses similar to mine. Not just in Iowa but all over the nation. The power of social media is amazing! I found other young entrepreneurs who were starting up their businesses at the same time as me. We bounced questions and ideas off each other daily. All of these things helped me stay focused on the right path and also gave room for the creative energy to build Bloom from the roots up.
Did you fund the project yourself or have investors?
The first big investment to Bloom was purchasing Bessie, a 1962 Chevy P10 Step Van. A friend had seen Bessie from a business’s Instagram account. This business had a storefront but had also converted an old truck. I reached out to the business to ask about the truck conversion and it turns out that Bessie was for sale! She was old and in Texas. I bought Bessie without ever seeing her in person, just a facetime showing. This was done trusting my gut instinct and believing the previous business owner was upfront and honest with me. Although Bessie wasn’t everything I needed, I knew she’d be a great start. I had a paid off car and no student loans, so I reasoned with myself and thought it would be okay to take out a loan on Bessie. It would be like paying a car loan, but for a car that made me money. Well at least that’s how I convinced my husband. 😉 The rest of the business I paid for by myself and just bought one thing at a time as I had the available funds. That chicken scratch business plan I put together, well it turned out that start up cost would easily quadruple in no time. That was scary and daunting. As the opening season came. I had drained all my extra pennies into this dream.
What was the most daunting part about starting your business? How did you learn to trust the process and stay motivated during the beginning stages?
Launching a business comes with so much pressure and many unknowns. It’s energy sucking. It’s constant decision making, pivoting when things don’t go as planned and staying true to your mission. I learned to embrace the crazy and roll with the punches. Making connections with others that helped me navigate the hard times and those beginning stages was incredibly helpful. I trusted in myself and my capabilities.
Describe an average day in the life of a Food Truck owner. What’s something people might be surprised by that’s a part of your daily routine or schedule?
It’s July as I write this and it’s a busy season! We are running 5/7 days of the week with one prep day and one “rest” day. Food truckin is seasonal so of course when you are on, you’re on. Bloomin’ would not be possible without the many helping hands who all play a vital role. On Monday we prep as a team. It’s a party; we peel hundreds of bananas together, blast music and enjoy some good ol’ air conditioning. The rest of the week we tour different rural towns and on the weekends we do special events. Each morning I wake up early and work the business (bookkeeping, marketing, etc.) from my desk. I then get the truck loaded and run through a checklist to make sure everything is loaded. We Bloom for around 5-8 hours. When Bessie pulls back into her service station we have a “pit crew manager” who gets Bessie shined up, restocked and ready to go for the next day. Several of our Bloom Crew members who help with numerous behind the scenes tasks such as peeling bananas and helping restock Bessie are in elementary school. We believe that the opportunity to learn work ethic, savings and time management are hands-on skills to be practiced and taught at a young age. Bloom creates a safe place to learn, make mistakes and grow.
What else inspires you on a day to day basis?
During the daily grind, I am continuously inspired by my customers who support Bloom. They are of all ages, different walks of life, and have different goals and skills. What is the most rewarding is the ability to increase daily access to snacks and treats that are convenient for the busy stay at home mother of 5, for the working mother on her lunch break, or the construction worker out in the intense Iowa summer heat looking to cool down. I know that their Bloom treat is made with the best ingredients possible. There’s no additional sugar, dye, preservative or fillers used in any of our products.
As a small team, how do you work together to get everything done?
Our team is made up of family, neighborhood kids and don’t forget the fur babies. First and foremost all our team members know and believe in our mission. They see themselves as key players and investors in something that is impacting and growing each and every day. They naturally anticipate what needs to be done in order to make sure their roles are completed so the team is taken care of. We have many helpers who make last minute store runs and check on Bessie and Bloom crew members throughout each operating day.
How have you gotten your food truck into different locations and events?
I initially started our schedule by picking communities that I wanted to serve, including three rural communities. Having a regular and predictable schedule helps us get more returning customers. We do special events on the weekends and Bessie sold herself for these. We get several inquiries daily about events and unfortunately cannot take anymore on for this season. The demand is high and we hope to be able to grow Bloom so that we can spread our mission and vision to more rural communities in Iowa and potentially other states.
What’s been the most effective way to get in front of consumers?
Social media has played a key role in getting our brand visible to our communities! Also you know what they say, “word travels fast in a small town.”
How have you used what you already knew/do for others and applied it to your business?
My experience from working in the food industry as a server for several years came into play when I was starting up Bloom. Knowing how to set up communication about orders, work stations, and ordering products was something I had seen done for years but had not done it myself. Before our regular season started we did soft openings which were the events that helped us the most. We learned important things like how much product we needed on hand, and where to put the scoops so that we weren’t flinging acai in each other’s hair all day. Bessie is very tiny in person, she doesn’t have a lot of work space so every square inch is utilized. Rachel and myself know how to groove in a tiny little work space together. We get along great and even on the long 15 hour days, we are still having a ton of fun!
What has been the most challenging part of running your business? What have you learned as you have adapted to changes over the past several months?
Unexpected Bumps- One of our very first special events, I actually wrecked my truck coming out of a car wash. I was so upset with myself. It was the beginning of the season! I called my Dad in the very early morning hours standing at the car wash with a squealing truck in the background. He said, “Joslyn bumps are expected, you can do hard things”. Shortly thereafter, I met with a mechanic in town who has now become more like family. Ben said “I’ll have her fixed up in no time.” That day we didn’t make it to our special event but we set up close to where I crashed and we sold a ton of product!
Reflection is always necessary- Starting the season I believed that my best friend, who also happens to be my sister in law Rachel, and myself could run the truck all summer long. I soon found out that Bloom was going to take many more helping hands. A lot of lessons were learned the hard way. Without systems, check lists and clear responsibilities of all our team members Bloom could not run smoothly. We would forget cups on the truck and not be able to serve, or we would end up prepping late into the night because we didn’t anticipate the demand. Reflection after each day, especially in the beginning, was necessary to ensure we were moving in the right direction together.
How do you make time for yourself, amidst it all? Or is now just not that period in your life?
Making time to be a wife, a friend, a daughter, and a sister is more important than being an entrepreneur but it’s incredibly easy to lose sight of these roles when you are grinding every day to launch your dream! One thing I never skip is coffee time. Yes, this means drinking coffee out of a mug with a handle and sitting in complete silence. This allows time for me to check in with how I am physically and mentally feeling in that moment. Coffee time is the best time. It might only be 5 minutes but those 5 minutes are critical to set the pace for the rest of the day. My husband and I also enjoy going on walks with our dogs and doing yoga together to separate work from home life.
Any plans for the future that you can/want to share?
I am not sure what is in store for Bloom even in this next season. I do believe there is no dream too big and the sky’s the limit. If I continue to stay true to our mission, stay grounded in our why, and seek opportunity, doors will continue to open that will lead us in the right direction.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to launch their own food truck or unique business idea such as Bloom? What is one thing you wish someone told you when you started the business?
There’s going to be bumps and a lot of them, but there is always a solution! One big problem may open the door to other opportunities that you have not yet seen. You are so much more wildly capable than you likely give yourself credit for. Get out of your own way, and follow that dream!
Find Joslyn & Bloom:
Facebook & Instagram