Derrick Pruitt, owner of Happy’s Java and Soul Food Shack sells the unheard of – home-cooked meals from a drive-up window. After a near-fatal hit and run accident in 2008, Derrick was told he would never work again. Defying the odds, he built his own innovative and successful coffee, barbecue and soul-food business with his wife, Marcella, in Springfield, Oregon.
Derrick, or Happy as he is more commonly known as, developed his cooking skills and menu from watching his parents cook during childhood. “Most of these recipes have been in my family for over 100 years,” said Happy. “My specialties include Alabama-style barbecue and smoked meats, soul food dishes, Belgian sweet potato waffles and fresh hand-roasted coffee. “
Happy makes all of his food, sauces and seasonings from scratch and uses state-of-the-art smokers, ovens and imported Belgian waffle irons to help speed up his authentic home-cooked soul food.
Five years ago, Happy was in a life-changing hit and run accident. Medical professionals told him he would be permanently disabled and his memory would never return. “All my doctors, social security and physical therapists told me that I would never be able to work again and I told them you don’t know who I am,” said Happy.
Happy spent almost three years in rehabilitation, going through intensive cognitive and physical therapy. As Happy struggled, “It became clear I would not be able to return to a sales career in the RV industry.” After 25 years in sales and management with a recreational vehicle company, Happy was faced with the challenge of finding a new way to support his family.
While in the RV industry, Happy had given potential and existing customers bagged fresh-roasted Kona coffee, to establish and maintain connections. Happy was going through so much coffee; he bought his own roasting equipment and learned how to roast beans to keep the costs down. Even after leaving the RV industry, Happy still received requests for the coffee. So, Happy started roasting coffee again and took it to the local Farmer’s Market. Happy’s coffee business soon grew into a small drive-through coffee and tea cart on Main Street.
When Happy first started, he thought he knew enough about business because he had been successful in his first career. But, Happy and Marcella found themselves working full time, six days a week and then more once they got home. Happy realized they needed help and at a recommendation from a friend, stopped by the Lane Community College Small Business Development Center. Happy and Marcella sat down with two of the SBDC’s advisors, Frank Plaistad and Gary Smith, who helped them develop a business plan. “It’s the best thing I ever did,” said Happy. “Still, to this day, I don’t do nothing without talking to Frank first.”
Developing a business plan helped Happy decide to move locations and into a bigger kiosk allowing for food preparation and enabling him to do what he truly loves – cook. “My daddy was the best cook I ever knew, he loved it when people ate his food,” said Happy. “It’s that transference of love that has me cooking every day.”
Happy has developed ways to keep his slow-cooked foods moving quickly to hungry customers. Orders can be placed online at www.happyssoulfoodshack.com or called in for pick-up. He’s also looking forward to the future and considering a sit-down restaurant where people will be able to enjoy his food with a ‘happy’ ambiance.
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