No Fixed Address pays it forward with Huggabowls of soup
Tyler Melnyk has been running a mobile soup kitchen in Olympic Plaza since February
Tyler Melnyk started his mobile soup kitchen No Fixed Address earlier this year. // James Tworow
“Everybody is huggable, everyone is human, and they all deserve to live with dignity and respect.”
That’s the message Tyler Melnyk hopes to send with his new mobile soup kitchen.
No Fixed Address launched in February and has been serving up hot bowls of soup and pie at Olympic Plaza a few days a week.
The pièce de résistance of No Fixed Address is the pay-it-forward concept of Huggabowls.
Instead of a gratuity, customers have the option of purchasing a Huggabowl token at a reduced price.
They can either keep the token to use themselves at a later date or leave it for someone who can’t afford a bowl of soup.
Melnyk says No Fixed Address hopes to confront the issue of food insecurity while showing every one of his customers dignity and respect.
“I give the exact same high-quality Pie Junkie product or the soup made by my chef, I give the exact same product to you whether you're paying or not,” he tells Calgary Citizen.
The struggle of food insecurity
Melnyk came up with the idea for No Fixed Address during the pandemic, after reflecting on his own family’s struggle with food insecurity.
“When I was in high school, everything that's happening today would have been my worst nightmare, because the little bit of security I knew, the roof I knew, the house I temporarily knew… I was never on the streets, but there were very precarious times,” he says.
“There was always a roof, but there wasn’t always food.”
Melnyk grew up in Burlington, Ont., with two parents who suffered from alcoholism.
“My dad died on the streets of Hamilton, Ont., due to his substance use disorder,” Melnyk says, adding he grappled with feelings that he was destined to repeat the cycle of addiction.
Thanks to Al-Anon Family Groups, Melnyk was able to turn himself around. He went to university, moved to Calgary, got married, started a family, and has been a teacher for 16 years.
During the pandemic, Melnyk started volunteering with local outreach groups.
“I noticed that one of the main issues in outreach was [that] this group of volunteers are attempting to do it all. They're trying to do clothing, hygiene, harm reduction, food with dignity,” he says.
“They're trying to do the logistics of the warehouse, the rent, the constant funding procurement wheel that you have to keep up, otherwise you might not be in operation in six months, and then marketing and all that.”
A desire to do more
After about a year of volunteering and doing some grant writing, Melnyk wanted to do more to help and started looking into a food truck.
Eventually, Melnyk decided a food truck would be too inhibitive and thought about something smaller that he could afford to start up.
“I landed on this hot dog cart idea that looks like a house… The chimney from the pizza oven is representing a house, the chimney is representing the warmth of the furnace,” he says.
Melnyk connected with Saffron Catering to provide the soup, and Pie Junkie later came on board to supply some treats.
In February, No Fixed Address made its debut, but the first several weeks were a struggle.
Melnyk says he was giving away more soup than he was selling, and after making a small amount of money one day, it fell out of the back of his truck on the way home.
“I got home and I cried and I said, ‘What am I doing?’” Melnyk says.
“I don't know the first thing about what I'm doing. I'm hoping this is going to take off but I'm standing in Olympic Plaza in -20, giving away soup to like eight people over six hours. I'm giving up all that time with my family and I've invested in this.”
Melnyk sets up his mobile soup kitchen a few days a week. // James Tworow
The sun’ll come out
Melnyk was ready to throw in the towel until someone close to him convinced him to keep going.
“It's always the darkest before the dawn… I didn’t give up because of some very good advice from someone I love very much,” he says.
All of a sudden, things blew up at the end of March after a man named James Tworow shared photos of Melnyk’s endeavour on Facebook. The post now has almost 3,000 shares.
“The issue was people didn't know I was there. It wasn’t the idea, it was that the community didn’t know. And once the community started to see it, it spread, and that’s great,” Melnyk says.
“[It] shows me the market is accepting of it, which means I did the right thing, which means this is all lining up.”
Melnyk says people from other cities have already started reaching out to him about doing something similar.
He plans to eventually grow his business, but he wants to do so slowly.
“The goal was to just prove the concept for a year in Calgary, work out the kinks, get the partners and everything down, and then start looking at expansion because this issue [of food insecurity] is everywhere,” Melnyk says.
Benefits of being mobile
For now, the hours of No Fixed Address will continue to be Thursdays and Fridays from 5 to 8pm, and Saturdays from noon until 6pm.
This way, Melnyk can continue teaching from Monday to Friday, something he remains passionate about.
He hopes his students are inspired by his undertaking.
“It's social action and it's the right message, and that's what I want them to learn,” Melnyk says.
Customers can find No Fixed Address at Olympic Plaza until mid-June. In the summer months, Melnyk will be working with the city to find another location with higher pedestrian traffic, possibly along the Bow River.
Not being tied to a certain building or location gives Melnyk the flexibility he wanted with No Fixed Address.
“The whole point is I don't need to have a brick-and-mortar shop, I can go anywhere where the demand is,” he says.