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Grilled Cheesin’ for a Reason

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Meet the woman who is fighting human trafficking through her grilled-cheese truck.

By Courtney Runn, Photos by Zach Hagy

At 24, Avery Harris became a business owner. She didn’t anticipate becoming an entrepreneur so young but couldn’t ignore the injustice she saw in the world. After graduating from Texas A&M University, she took a gap year for an 11-month Christian humanitarian trip, traveling to 11 countries. Upon seeing the horrors of human trafficking firsthand, she knew she couldn’t go back to her normal life at home. That is when she turned to unusual weapons to continue her fight against slavery: bread, butter and cheese.

In 2015, Harris opened Savery, a gourmet grilled-cheese food truck that donates 10 percent of its monthly proceeds to nonprofits fighting human trafficking and slavery. She rotates between different nonprofits every month and has formed special relationships with many of her partners. One of her longstanding partners, Wipe Every Tear, rescues girls from human trafficking and offers them a safe community and education. The Refuge, an all-encompassing rehabilitation center for trafficked girls located just outside of Austin, recently let Harris visit the space, a rare opportunity because of security concerns.

While she predominantly fights against human trafficking, Harris has a flexible definition of slavery and has made donations to other organizations when the time seemed right. After Hurricane Harvey, she donated to Houston nonprofits. To date, Harris estimates she has donated close to $100,000 to a variety of nonprofits.  

During her first year in business, Harris cooked on the truck every day while also juggling the administrative and financial work that comes along with being a small-business owner. Her main concern was gaining recognition in a city that already had food trucks on nearly every corner.

At 27, she’s now three years in and facing different challenges: How does she step back from the day-to-day operations a business she created? What defines success and failure? How does she remain a good boss to her employees?

While micromanagement can be a natural default when you own a business, Harris tries to take a step back and look at Savery objectively, focusing not only on caring for her employees well, but also on practicing self-care.

“I think in every season, there’s truth that is brought to your attention,” Harris says. “I think that’s something brought to me, that I’m not defined by [Savery] and I want to make sure it’s healthy for everyone involved.”

Her goal for her fourth year of business is to have the freedom to step away from cooking every day. So far, she’s been successful. She spends her days focusing on finances, menu changes, administration and meeting with other young entrepreneurs. While she doesn’t claim to be a food-truck expert, Harris says she never wants Savery to solely benefit herself and is happy to pass along whatever wisdom she can. Austin Woman asked Harris to share her advice for starting a business.

Hire people who will support you.

Harris says it is humbling to realize how much she needs support from her staff. In the beginning, she hired people because she needed employees, and while she always sought to care for her staff, she never expected care back.

“I need a support system in my staff,” Harris says, “not only from me to them, but them to me.”

Harris now feels the freedom to step back from the everyday demands of the truck because of the mutual trust she shares with her employees.

Let go.

In the beginning, Harris brought on a manager to help her with the business side of Savery and said it was incredible to have someone else more familiar with the food industry to turn to. After an overwhelming first year, her manager told her she had to get off the truck and let her employees take over the day-to-day duties of serving lunch. For Harris, it wasn’t that easy.

“How do I be present, make sure my staff’s OK but then also release some responsibility?” she remembers asking herself.

Today, Harris cooks on the truck only for catered events and to fill in for employees. She says the change has been a night-and-day difference. While it can be easy to fall on the extreme side, either being an absent boss or one who micromanages, Harris is continuously evaluating her role as a business owner and finding the right balance between the two extremes.

Write down your dream.

When giving advice to others, Harris always asks, “How do you make big decisions?” Her faith impacts her decision-making process and she always prays before making a major decision, but she recognizes that process can look different for others. She also suggests burgeoning entrepreneurs take note of the moment they know they want to pursue a dream.

“Know the moment you had that switch with your passion,” she says. “Write that down somewhere because you’re going to have doubting moments consistently. You need that reference point. … Share it with your people.”

Embrace your dream but don’t be afraid to re-evaluate.

Is walking away failure? Harris has been asking herself that question lately. While she has no immediate plans to end Savery, she’s careful to hold her dream with open hands and recognize whether her food truck is just for a season or for life, her identity and success do not hinge on its longevity.

“Everyone’s strength is their weakness,” Harris says. “I love that we’re a dreaming generation, but the weakness is that we do idealize it.”

While Harris appreciates the commitment and loyalty to careers older generations stereotypically possess, she wants to find a balance between committing to her plans and letting herself continue to dream beyond the present.

Every year, Harris picks a word to meditate on. For 2018, she chose “embrace.”

“I’m really trying to embrace my season,” she says, “embrace my moment, embrace where I am with Savery.”

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