A new vegan food and beverage truck is serving up coffee with a cause on Wilson Blvd in Ballston.
Pink Star Cafe opened its truck window Sunday, Oct. 3. and plans to remain parked in the area until it raises enough money to open a brick-and-mortar storefront.
But selling treats and cafe drinks is not owner Mohamed Jalloh’s top priority. His mission is to use the profits to fund a health clinic in his family’s home country of Sierra Leone.
“We’re going to give general checkups, menstrual products and necessities for those who don’t have access to them,” said Jalloh, a first-generation American who grew up in the D.C. area.
Jalloh plans to set up the clinic in early January in Freetown, the nation’s capital and the city where his mother lived before emigrating to the U.S. The three-day clinic will be run by some Sierra Leonean medical professionals who are the first in their families to become medical professionals.
How much money he dedicates to the cause will depend on what his profit margins look like by January, he says.
“As we grow, the plan is eventually to create bigger and better health clinics yearly, build more water wells and get people access to food,” said Jalloh.
Here in Ballston, Pink Star Cafe serves up classic, creative and seasonal espresso drinks, from lattes to purple hot chocolate to caramel apple tea lattes. It also offers vegan pastries, including glazed doughnuts, confetti cupcakes and seasonal treats, such as pumpkin cookies.
Jalloh said vegan treats are an integral part of ensuring the cafe is “socially and economically conscious.” He gets the vegan baked goods from a husband-and-wife duo in Austin, Texas.
“I wanted to work with a company that’s just as small as I am,” said Jalloh. “I just love supporting other small businesses. ‘I’m small, you’re small, let’s get big together or let’s just stay small.'”
The entrepreneur says he has spent much of his life working in the food service industry, learning from his mother how to sell food in crowded areas and give back to his community. Opening a food truck was a natural next step.
“My mom didn’t have an education, so when she first came from Sierra Leone, she had a hot dog stand outside of RFK Stadium where the Redskins — now Washington Football Team — used to play,” he said. “Every summer, when I wasn’t in school, I would work with her. She’d give me a cooler and I would sell water and Gatorade. Eventually, she went from a hot dog stand to a food truck. She’d drive around and feed construction workers while they were building up D.C.”
The Howard University alumnus first set up shop in Los Angeles in mid-2020. The locale and clientele inspired the name, he says, since “everybody in LA wants to be a star, so Pink Star is the place where everyone gets to be treated like a star.”
But he soon felt the pull to move back to the D.C. area.
“Los Angeles is a cool place but I just love it here,” he said. “I’m also a fall person, fall is my favorite season of the year. Fall and winter, it don’t get no better than that.”
Getting the truck here presented some challenges, however. He couldn’t afford to ship the truck, so he opted for the 46-hour, cross-country drive.
“It was painful, literally painful,” he said. “I found out I had a tear in my rotator cuff when I got back. I went for an MRI and found out I had a tear in my shoulder and it got inflamed during the drive. It was a painful journey, but it was worth it.”
Jalloh settled on Ballston recently after grabbing some vegan food at True Food Kitchen and exploring the area.
“I really love the energy here in Ballston,” he said.
And, while philanthropy is Jalloh’s main mission with Pink Star Cafe, he does have dreams of opening a shop someday in Arlington.
“We have some crazy, dope ideas. I want to create a shop where people can come and experience what we have to offer. Of course the truck is cute, but you don’t really get to experience it because you get a cup and you go. But, I want people to soak up what we’re actually doing, I want them to soak up the culture,” he said. “I want people to, every time they take a sip, think of Africa.”
Jalloh says the best way to stay up-to-date on the truck’s sales and philanthropy is via Instagram, where he already has nearly 9,000 followers. The mobile cafe is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Tuesday and Wednesday, though hours and days are subject to change.
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