At 17 years old, John Peyton Schmidt decided to drop out of Fayetteville (Ark.) High School. During that period, he grappled with drug involvement, faced instability within his family, and struggled with substance dependency. “I threw everything out the window,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt’s life took a stark turn as he found himself homeless, resorting to hopping trains, hitchhiking across the United States, and sleeping under overpasses, sometimes even inside dumpsters. He resorted to scavenging for food, sometimes eating from the very dumpsters he sought shelter in.

“I lived the product of a life run by self-will and drug use,” Schmidt said.

Adding to his challenges, in 2016, Schmidt faced another setback when his ex-wife, who had been released from prison, became pregnant with his child. Compounding his distress, Schmidt was barred from the hospital during his son’s birth, leading his ex-wife’s new boyfriend to take custody of the child, depriving Schmidt of the opportunity to see his son for an entire year.

That moment marked Schmidt’s descent to rock bottom, triggering a relapse at a critical juncture. Just two months shy of completing his probation on a five-year sentence, Schmidt found himself facing a heroin charge, reigniting the entire legal ordeal.

For a year, Schmidt battled to convince the court of his transformation. He pleaded his case, attributing the incident to extenuating circumstances. The judge recognized Schmidt’s sincerity and opted not to incarcerate him. Instead, Schmidt was referred to a program at the Texarkana Regional Correctional Facility on the Arkansas side.

Arkansas Entrepreneur John Paul Schmidt received assistance from the Lending and Entrepreneurship Teams at Communities Unlimited for his business Wholly Schmidt Foods
Arkansas Entrepreneur John Paul Schmidt (R) received assistance from the Lending and Entrepreneurship Teams at Communities Unlimited for his business Wholly Schmidt Foods

During his incarceration, Schmidt embarked on his academic journey at Shorter College. Surpassing his previous academic performance, he achieved grades above the C level for the first time. Guided by supportive mentors, Schmidt was encouraged to strive for excellence. His dedication paid off when he graduated with honors in December 2023, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Entrepreneurship.

During his time at Shorter College, Schmidt came up with the idea of launching his own business. In 2022, he gained full custody of his son, James Peyton, known as JP, after previously being limited to occasional weekend visits.

In addition to gaining full custody of his son and graduating from college, Schmidt made a remarkable transformation. He overcame substance abuse, completely sobered up, and shortly afterward, decided to abstain from alcohol entirely to focus on launching his own business.

Wholly Schmidt, a Winslow, Arkansas-based business, was officially born on January 1, 2023.

Schmidt was introduced to Communities Unlimited (CU) by Arkansas Rehab Services, and together with David Brunton from SCORE Mentors, they devised a plan for Schmidt to obtain a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan from CU’s Lending Team to develop his business, Wholly Schmidt.

“It has been a dream come true,” Schmidt said. “I never thought I would be in this position in my life. From not having custody of my son to living on the streets, being thrown around by substances to where I’m at now, like having a home, having a sponsor, and being able to give back that same love that was shown to me, I’m almost in tears right now.

“I thought my 20 years of messing up and living the life I did, I thought it would take, you know, 15-20 years to gain back any kind of foothold in life. It’s been almost instantaneous. My higher powers have blessed me more than I ever thought possible.”

Schmidt reflected on the moment when his son was born and taken away, recognizing the need for drastic change in his life. That was John Peyton Schmidt’s turning point.

“The moment I saw my son born, and the moment that he was taken away from me, I knew that I had to give it all up,” Schmidt said. “He’s been the driving force for me to do something better for myself. I had to give him stability, comfort, and love. He’s only 6 years old, but he’s seen more than any child should have. To me, there’s nothing more important than giving him a second chance at life.”

Arkansas Entrepreneur John Paul Schmidt received assistance from the Lending and Entrepreneurship Teams at Communities Unlimited for his business Wholly Schmidt Foods
CU's Lending and Entrepreneurship Departments teamed up to allow John Paul Schmidt to bring healthy, organic foods, locally-sourced foods to a bigger audience.

Wholly Schmidt, a mobile food concession stand, specializes in offering organic, locally sourced, and sustainable menu options, reflecting Schmidt’s passion for fresh produce and meats. Schmidt not only grows vegetables himself but also shares seeds with local farmers to cultivate produce for the stand, ensuring freshness and quality.

Through selling at farmer’s markets and local events, he refines his recipes and ingredients, resulting in a menu featuring items with seven or fewer locally sourced ingredients, including meats, herbs, and spices. Wholly Schmidt’s menu includes super salads, poke bowls, soups, finger foods, grilled vegetables, and smoothies.

Schmidt expressed his long-held aspiration to support hardworking individuals in the produce industry. He recounted how he fulfilled this dream by dispersing his seed bank to local farmers, providing them with essential resources to enhance their farms’ growth.

“In turn, to be able to come back and buy at a cheaper price and watch the magic of cooking and what we can do to our food and how it’s grown, it changes people almost instantly,” Schmidt said.

Observing the impact of his food on individuals, especially those struggling with substance abuse, Schmidt highlighted the healing properties of the offerings for both the body and mind. He underscored his role as a beacon of hope and support for those seeking to overcome challenges, explaining the importance of hard work and passion in effecting positive change.

Schmidt emphasized the necessity of investing his dedication, akin to his devotion to his son, to build a better future, drawing inspiration from the love and support he received during his struggles with addiction.

“I'm there to be a pillar and to be an example that no matter how far down the scale we've gone, we can always turn it around if we work hard enough and we put that same passion and love, the same passion I have towards my son, goes into the food that we make. I can't build this future for my son not giving it my all. I have to put my whole heart into it just like I put my whole heart into him and get back the love that was shown to me in the depths of my addiction.”

— John Peyton Schmidt, Owner, Wholly Schmidt Foods

With the funds from the CU loan, Schmidt invested in a reliable trailer to transport his equipment and upgraded his 1985 Ford flatbed truck, essential for his business operations. Additionally, he allocated funds to source produce and products, enhancing the offerings of his business.

Schmidt expressed his gratitude for the invaluable support provided by Shorter College, Arkansas Rehab Services, SCORE, and CU in the growth and development of his business.

“It’s been more than I ever could have imagined,” Schmidt said. “The support and the outlets towards different groups and people have been what has created this business now. Without Shorter, Arkansas Rehab Services, Communities Unlimited, and SCORE, I would not be where I’m at today. A year and a half ago, I would have never thought any of this was possible.”

Debra Williams, CU’s Area Director of Lending, collaborated closely with Schmidt throughout the loan closing process.

“What a blessing to be a part of this young man’s new business venture,” Williams said. “This was also a great opportunity to partner with SCORE to clearly define this borrower’s needs.

"Mr. Schmidt truly reflects what one can accomplish with sheer determination, hard work, and seeking out the guidance of industry and financial experts. He has not just overcome but has risen far above the many obstacles that sought to bring him down. Now his focus is not on just being a successful single dad and business owner, but also on giving back to those in his community who share some of his past struggles."

— Debra Williams, CU Lending

Debra Williams

Williams strategically blended efforts on Wholly Schmidt by involving the Entrepreneurship Team and Senior Management Consultant Rhett Douglas. Together, they assessed financial projections and the business model, leveraging Douglas’s expertise in this particular industry.

Douglas recognized Schmidt’s concept as promising for the Northwest Arkansas area.

“Debra asked me to advise on thinking through some operational challenges Wholly Schmidt might have in serving fresh seafood as a mobile vendor,” Douglas said. “I was happy to lend my expertise to the case, and though E-Team did not open a client engagement with John directly, being looped in allowed us to make the Lending Department’s job easier and provide a better understanding of the client’s financial situation.”

Further strategic blending between CU’s Teams ensued when a referral was extended to CU’s Community Sustainability Team and Healthy Foods Coordinator Brenda Williams. Debra Williams emphasized there is potential to involve additional small, local growers in the network of produce providers.

Schmidt says he gained valuable insights from his years of adversity,  In October 2023, he reached another turning point and surrendered to his higher power in God, placing his trust in faith to guide and support him, his son, and his business.

“It shows me that light can’t exist without darkness and darkness can’t exist without light,” Schmidt said. “It’s that yin and yang of life. When the darkness comes, when rough times come, I can give it all to my higher power and I don’t have to let it eat at me and I don’t have to let it make me stumble in my life. I know I’ll be taken care of. I know my son will be taken care of as long as I continue on this path of building a future in sobriety and love and giving that back to people through Wholly Schmidt.”