Aaron Vogel, the co-founder of TurnChange organization and Uptown donut and slider eatery District Donuts, has recently launched two new ventures: District Hand Pie and Coffee Bar and District Streetcar. The latter, a food truck, is not only rounding out NOLA’s burgeoning food truck scene but also giving back to local communities. 100% of profits derived from the StreetCar support CrossRoads NOLA, a New Orleans-based non-profit serving foster children. With the new truck Vogel and his team hope to align New Orleans children and teens with families and raise community awareness about the strife foster children face.
My House Nola recently sat down (and munched on PB&J donuts) with Vogel, discussing the foodie entrepreneur’s newest projects, foster care and how he almost went to Bible college.
My House Nola: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Aaron Vogel: I grew up in this area with my two other business partners and started working in the restaurant industry right out of high school. I went through Bible College, anticipating leading a church; I didn’t anticipate owning a business like this.
Long story short, I got back in to the restaurant industry and began working at the corporate level at Houston’s with one of my business partners. All three of us have been friends for over 10 years Our values, background and world views align, so it was really easy to translate and do business together. One of our big efforts is trying to find ways to combine for profit and not-for-profit, which is what our food truck is all about.
MHN: Why donuts?
AV: It was a two and a half year process that was really focused on the concept of TurnChange LLC, “turn profits change lives”.
When we first started we had a few ideas in mind, but it was never “we had the best donuts in the city.” We all grew up here eating Tastee donuts, buttermilk drops and Castle Burgers and we thought we could do an elevated scale of all three. So donuts, sliders and brew came to be.
MHN: Can you tell us about your two newest ventures, District Street Car & District Hand Pie?
AV: District Pies just opened and we have a great team of people working together on this project. We are trying to do small turnover pies similar to how we do our donuts — elevated, unique and fun, eccentric but also some that are simple and approachable. We’re also going to have Vietnamese coffee on tap and coffee cocktail’s (no alcohol) with bitters and fruit.
The food truck is going to be a minimized version of District Donuts with a limited menu. Our main mission is to share the story behind the food truck.
MHN: Can you tell us more about why you partnered with Crossroads and your personal connection to foster care?
AV: New Orleans, like most cities, is overwhelmed when it comes to [need for] foster children and needs help. Crossroads Nola is a foster care advocacy agency that recruits and provides support for potential foster families and educates the community about the issue.
We recently partnered with Gulf Coast Bank, which donated and retrofitted the food truck. We decided that all of the profits would go towards a cause that we both cared about — foster care.
In my family, we have four biological children and we are in the process of becoming foster care parents. So this isn’t just something we want to do to give our service, but rather something we are connected intimately with and believe in. It’s amazing what kids have to go through in this process, so our goal is to tell that story at events. We want to bring great food, but also raise awareness.
MHN: What is the weirdest combination of ingredients that you’ve used in your donuts?
AV: One thing that people think twice about is our olive glaze donut with miso, praline and maple bacon. We also have a maple sriracha glaze with candied thyme. Movie night is a new one with popcorn pastry cream, cola glaze, snow caps on top and gummy cola bottle — that one has been fun.
MHN: What do you think New Orleans is lacking food wise?
AV: When I speak with people there seems to be a desire for more Vietnamese food. However, overall, New Orleans seems to be doing a pretty good job.
Check back later this week for a list of Aaron’s top five restaurants in New Orleans and a sneak peak of what he keeps in his home refrigerator.
This series of stories about New Orleans food trucks, pop-ups and culinary entrepreneurs is made possible through a partnership with local culinary production planning company My House NOLA, in conjunction with MHN’s food truck and pop-up blog.