GRAND FORKS — Amaziah Adams tears up when he talks about the experiences that led him to being able to return to Grand Forks.
It was an act of kindness that allowed him to do so — a card with some money — given to him by a staff member at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, a homeless shelter in Sioux Falls, S.D., where Adams had been staying. He made it back, set up a food stand, had it inspected and began selling Tachos, his creation, a combination of tacos and nachos.
Those tears, at times, run freely when he talks about his life.
“I've always kept hope that I can be the one to change my narrative,” Adams said, standing next to his graffiti-painted van, at a north Grand Forks workshop.
The van, which he painted himself, will pull a kitchen-outfitted trailer Adams can use to continue his business in the winter months. That, too, will be covered in graffiti when Adams is finished with it.
It’s been a long and transformative journey, for the Chicago native. Adams grew up in Englewood, a neighborhood there, which he describes as having been ravaged by the crack cocaine epidemic of the '80s. It’s a place he says is “if not the worst, it’s probably in second place.” There he was involved in a gang and sold drugs. He’s not proud of it, but it’s something he freely admits is “what everybody that feels like they're in that position has to do to survive at the time.”
From Chicago, he went to St. Paul, then spent more than a decade in South Dakota, before making his way to Fargo. It was there he got the idea to start a food cart. In 2015, he started selling Italian beef sandwiches, a Chicago specialty. He bounced back and forth between Fargo and Grand Forks, but he wound up losing money on the venture. After a failed trip to try his cart in Texas, he wound up back in South Dakota. Destitute, he began living at the Bishop Dudley House.
He started going to the library to read about how to better run his business. He wanted to return to Grand Forks, a place he says makes him feel welcome. That card and money, given to him by the Bishop Dudley staffer, got him back, and he got an apartment through the Grand Forks Housing Authority. The staff member, a retired police officer, changed the way Adams sees law enforcement. Now, if he has food left at the end of the night, he gives it either to people at Northlands Rescue Mission, or Grand Forks police officers.
“That's why I teared up,” Adams said. “Without that (card), it was hard for me to even get back on the road and get back up here.”
Adams worked with staff from the Small Business Development Center, on the UND campus, to develop and refine his business plan. From there, he wound up at the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, where he worked with business development manager Brandon Baumbach to apply for a Start-Up Grand Forks loan.
“He, I think, exemplifies the entrepreneur, the one that works hard and puts in the extra time,” Baumbach said.
Adams was given a Start-Up Grand Forks loan he will use to run his business year-round.
Adams saw an opportunity downtown. While packing up his cart one night, he was approached by a group of UND football players. They asked for a garbage plate — a mix of what food was left — and Adams stacked nachos on top of tacos. Those football players walked off, and Adams resumed packing his cart, but a group of UND hockey players came by requesting the same thing. Adams knew he was on to something.
“Now I have my own identity that I made from what I did, so I'm going to run with it,” he said.