With everything going on I kind of just wanted to talk about my friends. Friends I met along my journey of soup and friends who ultimately were my support during this Pandemic.
I’m going to be honest, I never thought I’d ever own a shop. I never thought I’d be cooking soup and selling it. I do have a passion for cooking but I also have a love for Television and my knowledge of camera angles, editing, comedic timing far surpasses that of dimensional shipping, vendor picking, hood inspections and photographing food. I always just assumed my path would continue to be Television and so be it. But life changes and then Pandemics also change your life.
We opened our shop November 2019. It was scary and exciting all wrapped up in one. Like everyone else, I never expected three months into this exciting new chapter, we would shut our doors. See, Gracefully Fed was lucky. We had set up shipping a year prior to opening our shop. We were able to continue to ship nationwide during the lockdown. While incredibly grateful that we had this luxury, shutting the shop hurt us, financially. We had to let go of most of our staff. And because of my autoimmune we took extra precaution and wore the PPE as well as rotated shifts so that no one was in the kitchen with anyone else. That meant, one person shipped at a time, one person cooked at a time, all of the prepping, the dishwashing, all of the inventory, the boxing, the unboxing, the customer logging, the customer service was done by one person at any given time. The physical and mental stress of it all took its toll but complaining was never an option. The goal, I would say to my team, is “to see an end in sight. To open our doors once again. To get the help that is very much needed. To pay our bills and maintain our kitchen. And we are doing just that. How proud you guys should be that we are overcoming this obstacle!” But while trying to stay positive there are just days where on the way home, you just want to break down. And that’s when you call your support system.
These women who I now call friends are the women who have helped me understand food. The inner workings of this industry. The women who supported me opening the shop. The women who understood how devastated I was to close its doors. These women have their
own businesses. Have had to adjust just like us. Have been working their assess off and without their support there would be no growth.
I met Maya in a shared kitchen.
We cooked next to each other. I was brand new to the business, she seemed like a pro. Her Brazilian sweets are unique, delicious, perfect gift givers. Maya hand rolls every single one of her treats. I can’t emphasize that enough. Every one of her treats are hand rolled, do you know how much work goes into that? I started asking her questions about growth and shipping. We talked about hiring and firing employees. We talked about the stressors of owning a business and when to shut off and if that’s even a thing. She continued to believe in my business as I believed in hers but more than that she became a source of friendship that I needed.
When the Pandemic hit, Maya was building a strong in-store following. People were coming to her kitchen where she rented specifically to buy her treats. She too has a wide shipping base but in-store is so personal and so exciting. And while business continued unfortunately the kitchen where she ran her business, lost their lease and Maya would have to start over somewhere else. Lots of masked walks and coffee to discuss this. How is this happening? But that’s the thing about strong women, they don’t give up, they keep on moving. So she found another place to cook out of, MID PANDEMIC! She upped her orders during the holiday season and hand rolled from 5am to 11pm daily. She is a force and her Brigs are out of this world. I always love a friend who will show you what they are made of and she is one of those friends. I also love a friend who will special make me Guava Brigs at a moments notice. If you have not tried these delectable treats, you need to order now.
When Covid hit, food preparation at the markets was put on hold. This jeopardized Jamila’s entire business that was thriving. And then she restructured proving again, I love surrounding myself with strength in women. She started providing avocado toast kits online but not just that, she connected and partnered with other food artisans to sell their product which she delivers herself. Every Friday, she’s up at 2am and delivers until 4pm. She supports other small businesses, gets their products sold, all the while cooking, delivering, raising her son. She amazes me. The best part is, I always order early and so when she pops up at my door or texts me on a Friday that she’s almost near, I’m so elated, it is the best surprise ever. There is no one who appreciates fresh produce more and I encourage everyone to order from her. She is the ultimate friend as she is always looking to help where help is needed. And not surprising at all, she always has on hand…the perfect avocados!
Last but not least, I’d like to talk about my friend Kalyn. She manages the Earthbar in West Hollywood. I’d like to refer to her as the Customer Service Police. But let’s start at the beginning. I’ve been going to this earth bar since the beginning of my illness. Knowing my allergies, my sickness, she always preferred if she handled my order herself. When I started toying with the idea of owning my own shop, I asked Kalyn for help. We met a few times for drinks where she would map out how the health inspection process would go. We would end up talking about a thousand other things and because of that, she would come by my new shop and do a trial inspection for me just to make sure I was on the right track. She promotes my business, listens to me vent and when the Pandemic hit and I couldn’t go into her store for the same smoothie I’ve been ordering for 6 years, she said, “come by, I’ll bring it to your car.” And she did. And still does. Again, a smoothie and a bonus catch up, my favorite mornings!
One of my favorite things about Kalyn is she’s all about good humans. She loves a good human. And if you aren’t a good human, she loves pointing it out. All of us, in the food industry have to deal with customers, customer requests, customer demands etc. We all commiserate over that one customer who makes you feel worthless and then that one customer who literally just made your day by giving a compliment or tipping. Kalyn enforces a tip especially during this pandemic. And I support it. We are all doing our best, under the weirdest of circumstances. We are humans, we make mistakes but we try hard and we are working when it is scary to be working. So if you can’t tip at least be nice is her philosophy and I love it.
This Pandemic has brought things to the forefront. It makes being 3000 miles away from family palpable. It makes having a compromised immune system scarier. It makes being single at times a bit lonelier. But I have my kitchen. I have a place to go that makes me happy. I have a purpose. I also have a lot of support from friends who I would never have met if I didn’t start cooking soup. And for that, I’d say, I’m pretty lucky. Please check out these women at their stores, support local, support small and know that every order is such a big deal for us so thank you!