Justin Box
Justin Box
Courtesy Justin Box

Dallas Chef Starts Elotes Cart for Employees Who Need Second Chances

Starting in August, there's a new elotes cart to seek out on the streets of Deep Ellum.

It's brightly colored, and the food is sure to satisfy since it's coming from the mind of Dallas chef Justin Box, but serving street corn is only part of his mission.

“I want to give people second chances — and third chances and fourth chances,” he says. “I want to give people who are afraid of the world, who have been abused one way or another, to have the courage to live again, all while serving some fun food.”

Box's new elotes cart, Rise Above, is his effort to employ anyone who's “hurting or has really been struggling” and “catapult them back into life.”

It's an experience Box is familiar with. He's been sober for eight years after battling addiction. Cooking professionally was a large part of his second chance, and he plans to pass that on to others.

And it's going to be in the form of elotes.

“I'm not a fan of bastardizing things, so I'm definitely going to be doing an authentic-as-possible elotes, but at the same time, I'm going to do the Rise Above version, which will be anything from smoked chicken salad to chopped pastrami with 'comeback sauce,'” he says.

Rise Above's name springs from a couple of sources, including a song written by Henry Rollins of Black Flag.

“Every lyric in that song hits my heart,” Box says. “There is also the whole 'rise above and be better and keep on living' kind of thing, so there's that, and there's rise above your average food and making it better.”

The cart looks like someone ran by and generously splattered paint all over it. A cartoonish character with a spiked mohawk dominates the center.

“There's nothing better to me than that little dude, who's also missing a tooth like me,” Box says. “The bright colors symbolize positive activity. It's supposed to be a play off of '80s splatter punk.”

Box has been a punk rocker forever, he says proudly, and he hopes to stay that way. He plans to unveil his elotes cart in August, when it will roam Deep Ellum every Friday through Sunday.

There's a website to come where you can keep up with where the cart is and how to book for special events. Box is taking his time with this creation, which he's had in his mind for a while.

“I've been thinking about this idea for about three years,” he says. “It was when I was about Café Momentum [that] I was thinking about this. That was my platform that catapulted me. ... I also want to help people that need a second chance from whatever they did.”

Box is conducting interviews for his first employees. He plans to employ two people to start and expand from there as the business grows. His main focus is to employ people in addiction recovery and those who come from domestic abuse situations.

“I just want to make sure it's the right fit for the beginning,” he says. “I plan on also being available to help whoever it is coming to work with me, helping them find help in whatever areas they need, being their mentor," he says. “I'm sure that I might get suckered one way or another when working with some people, but that's OK, and I expect that. But I'm going to be there to keep giving people chances.”

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