Each day, UT alumnus Drew Gressett’s burgers help improve the lives of 100 members of Austin’s homeless community.

In 2009, Gressett’s Hat Creek Burger Co. partnered with the Austin Ridge Bible Church and nonprofit Mobile Loaves and Fishes to distribute his “100 most important burgers” to homeless people six days a week. Hat Creek employees cook the burgers in the afternoon, and up to 700 volunteers distribute them every month.

“There aren’t enough burgers out there,” Gressett said. “Putting food in empty stomachs and the opportunity to go out and serve [the homeless population of Austin] creates a culture of caring about others. That, for me, is the most important thing.”

Gressett played basketball for the Longhorns before graduating in 2004. Four years later, he opened his first food truck, which later evolved into four restaurants around Austin. During that transition, Gressett met Matt Freeman, ex-pastor at Austin Ridge Bible Church, and Alan Graham, CEO and co-founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, at the Austin Ridge Bible Church. As Gressett’s food trailers evolved into brick-and-mortar restaurants, the church began looking into connecting with the homeless community.

The trio united under a shared desire to give back, and Gressett and Freeman co-founded the “100 most important burgers project.”

“It really all began with [Gressett] as the chief visionary,” Freeman said. “He’s an entrepreneur with compassion.”

Four to five volunteers show up to Hat Creek Burger Co. on Burnet Road every morning to cut vegetables and, with the help of Hat Creek employees, load the burgers into Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ trucks before driving to regions around Austin with the highest homeless rates. Hat Creek, Mobile Loaves & Fishes and the church’s partnership now feed more than 30,000 people every year.

“This project has had the most [impact] of any project I’ve been involved in,” Freeman said. “It’s not only about the hamburgers, it’s about the human-to-human, heart-to-heart interaction.”

Gressett said people tend to think the homeless population is made up of lazy people who choose to not work or suffer from mental illness, but it is more common for Austin’s homeless to wind up on the streets after losing family.

“When I think about the friend and family support that I have and how they don’t have it, that’s heartbreaking,” Gressett said. “That allows you to go out to the streets and develop relationships.”

Hat Creek Burger Co. will open a fifth location in Lakeway this year.

“I always wanted Hat Creek to grow and build a company, but I never really knew the twist and turns it would take,” Gressett said. “By the time you come back from handing out the burgers, you’ve blessed yourself and you’ve blessed them.”

This story was published in The Daily Texan on March 28, 2016.

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