A really cool opportunity
Dorchester entrepreneur hopes to mentor local youth
On a recent afternoon at Smokey Slushes, Omar Credle was crouched behind the counter, lugging a small fridge to the corner where he planned on storing and displaying soft drinks. As he put the shop together, he wiped sweat from his brow, just as he’s been doing for the past 19 days since the place opened to the public.
The storefront on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester is an expansion of Credle’s food truck, which he’s been driving around, selling Richie’s Classic Italian Ice and other snack goods, since 2015.
It took Credle six years to launch his food truck business after he began to save money for it while a participant at Project SOAR, a program based at Long Island in Boston Harbor. Credle recalls that he had been homeless for ten years, in and out of jail and struggling with substance abuse.
Now he hopes that by next year he will be able to hire teens and young adults, “people who are having a hard time getting a job with a record,” he said. “I made mistakes when I was younger too.”
“The Smokey Slushes’ motto is, ‘The key to success is education, not drugs, guns, or violence,’” Credle told a visitor. “Or, ‘Beantown, Guns down.’ Meaning, put the guns down, do something else. Read a book. Go swimming. Who wants to be in prison for the rest of their life?”
Project SOAR — the acronym for Project Stability, Opportunity, Achievement and Recovery — is a rehabilitation program for homeless adults who show a commitment to ongoing personal recovery. Credle said he first heard about the program through the Pine Street Inn, where he previously had stayed.
Over the course of two years with Project SOAR, he “learned how to live and start to put my life back together,” he said.
Before creating his own business, Credle had a hard time finding a job due to his jail record, something he believes many other young adults experience, too.
“It’s kind of scary going for a job knowing that you made a mistake,” he said. “But you’re not doing that no more. You’re trying to do the right thing, but you’ll be denied anyway.”
Job rejections and lack of opportunity can take a toll on a person, reinforcing a negative cycle. “Filling out 30 to 40 applications, everybody’s telling you, ‘No,’ and before you know it, you’re depressed,” Credle said.
Ultimately, he wants to create a program for young people ages 14 to 25, enabling them to work for Smokey Slushes and then helping them fill out applications to move on to other jobs and a better future. “I’m trying to get through these kids because I’ve been through it,” he said.
Smokey Slushes offers 29 different flavors of Italian Ice along with other snacks like popcorn and cookies.
Credle takes an innovative approach to serving size, offering the usual small to extra large cups of slush, but adds an even smaller size: the “bootleg” serving. For $1.00, customers can get one scoop, instead of the usual two scoops for $2.50. He said he had mothers with multiple children and a tight budget in mind when he came up with that serving size.
“A mom with a lot of kids, she can’t afford $2.50 for all of them, but she’s still trying to make them happy with a slush,” Credle said.
During a reporter’s visit, customers came in periodically, looking for a cool respite on a hot early September day. Credle said during the wintertime, Smokey Slushes also will serve hot dogs and fried dough.
Smokey Slushes is a member of Commonwealth Kitchen, a Boston food business incubator, where Credle was able to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to run his food truck business in an informative and supportive environment.
Credle said that through Project SOAR, Commonwealth Kitchen and other resources, he’s gained an invaluable education and hopes to be a similar source of guidance to others.
“I never knew you could get your money back by filing your taxes. Nobody ever told me that,” Credle said. “Kids out here don’t have the information to know what’s going on, like I didn’t.”
Why call it Smokey Slushes? “Smokey was my old nickname,” Credle chuckled. “I kept it to remember where I was at, and remind me where I’m trying to go today.”
He then observed, “Don’t let your past dictate your future. It ain’t easy but it can be done. If I did it, anybody can.”
Smokey Slushes is located on 834 Blue Hill Avenue, and can be found on Facebook at SmokeySlushes.