When he was growing up, long before he attended UWC-USA, AJ Feeney-Ruiz ‘99 wanted to be a chef. But it wasn’t until he went to college, earned an MBA and a law degree, and worked for years in politics in Indiana that he finally pivoted to making people happy with food. When he left the political arena he traveled, practiced Shaolin Kung Fu for a year in China, and ended up studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and working in French restaurants before moving back to the U.S. in 2020.
Between jobs when the pandemic hit, AJ started making pastries and meals out of his studio apartment in Indianapolis and sharing pictures of the delicacies on Instagram. He developed a following, sold more and more baked goods, and started making a little money. With no real capital, he crowdfunded to purchase and refurbish a food truck (with the help of many of his UWC-USA classmates) and now is the proprietor of Books, Bourbon, & Bacon, a food and bread truck that haunts brewpubs and festivals in and around Indianapolis.
“We’ve kept our prices the same, even with inflation increasing the cost of our basic ingredients because we want the food experience we create to be accessible to as many people as possible,” AJ said. To that end he deliberately locates the food truck in underserved areas across the city. “We’ve been at Riley’s Children’s Hospital, President Benjamin Harrison’s Home Site, and local schools. I make a point to park in food deserts and underrepresented communities as much as I can along with donating the truck to charities throughout each year.”
The skills AJ developed at UWC-USA are central to his success. He charts the vision for an enterprise, manages a diverse workforce, and makes partnerships with the establishments where Books, Bourbon, & Bacon parks. But possibly the most compelling impact of a UWC-USA experience, he claims, is a way of thinking and seeing the world. “UWC-USA seems to remap or rewire your brain making you more able to pivot, find and execute on opportunities, and evaluate and take on risk.”
He plans to add another truck in the near future and feels optimistic about the next steps. “I have hundreds of recipe ideas from all over the world that I can’t wait to bring to Indianapolis.”