Aubrey “Bo” Bowale has made it his personal and professional mission to make local, healthy food accessible and affordable, especially for those who live in the food desert that is Southeast Colorado Springs.
He is proposing to launch a social enterprise called Greenbox, a mobile food vending business that will serve plant-based cuisine.
“Our whole goal is to bring awareness around healthy food and healthy food choices,” he said.
Bowale wants to deploy two solar-powered food trailers and two portable food stands at community centers and near busy business intersections. He will serve salads, sandwiches, wraps, bowls, smoothies and soups made with fresh, local ingredients.
Bowale has already gained local fans for his “Afro-global” flavor profiles drawn from South American, Jamaican, traditional Latino and Caribbean food traditions. Working out of the Common Cause Catering kitchen to test and perfect his menus, he’s catered festivals and special events and served his vegan soul food in popups and food installations at Pikes Peak Market and Local Relic.
“We bootstrapped, and now we’re ready to scale,” Bowale said.
He hopes to win the Southeast Business Plan competition so he can raise startup capital.
Once the catering business gets going, Bowale plans to launch the nonprofit side of the business, called Southeast F.R.E.S.H. The acronym stands for Food Resources and Education to Sustain Health.
The nonprofit will offer classes, mobile food pantries and a mobile farmers market and will work with organizations such as Colorado Springs Food Rescue.
“My passion is really about the nonprofit,” Bowale said, “but the for-profit gives us the exposure and the opportunity to put food into the community.”
Bowale has deep connections with Colorado Springs. Born in Texas, he lived in the Southeast from ages 5 to 8 when his father was stationed at Fort Carson. His brother, an Air Force Academy graduate, has lived in Colorado for the past 10 years, and his mom moved back to the Southeast two years ago.
“Returning to Southeast Colorado Springs, especially with my mother here, feels like coming home,” he said.
Bowale spent his childhood summers on his grandparents’ Texas farm, and his grandmother taught him to cook using food picked from her kitchen garden. He started cooking for his family when he was about 8 years old, “because I didn’t like fast food.”
His professional experience ranges from work for large corporations to running a successful soul food restaurant with his father in Nacogdoches, Texas.
He also has worked as a special events coordinator and as a project manager and occupational health and safety officer. After the BP oil spill in 2010, he helped to decontaminate and clean birds, boats and beaches.
Along with his accomplishments have come exceptional hardships. In 1999, “I was falsely accused of being ‘indecently exposed’ by the estranged husband of a former girlfriend,” Bowale said.
Although the husband later tried to drop the charges, Bowale said, the local district attorney refused to dismiss the case. Upon the advice of a public defender, he pleaded no contest and received deferred adjudicated probation.
The charges eventually were dismissed, but Bowale said “to this day, I still must deal with the stigma of having gone through that experience,” adding the matter led him to take on a new last name. He chose Bowale, a Nigerian word that means “the son returns home.”
In 2010, Bowale’s 21-year-old son was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Within the next two years, he lost his son, his father and the mentor who helped launch his environmental safety career.
He threw himself into work on a project in Montana, but “one day, I had a complete breakdown,” he said. “I left my Ford F-250, walked off the project and was homeless for almost three years. I completely detached from reality and did not want anything to do with society.”
Bowale finally found solace at a Buddhist monastery outside Austin, Texas. After a year of meditation, study and cooking for the monks, he reconnected with his family in Texas, then moved with his 9-year-old son to Colorado to care for his stepfather and mother.
“This is a life that has come full circle,” Bowale said. “Because someone took a chance on me, I was able to succeed. I will create that same type of opportunity for others.”
Several of Bowale’s family members, including his ex-wife, mom, brother and another son, are partners in Greenbox, and he plans to hire people who are re-entering the community from the criminal justice system.
“My connection is a connection to family and wanting to come back to a community to give back to the residents where I started,” he said. “I believe that I turned my pain into a purpose-driven mission to prevent other people from experiencing that pain.”