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Local chef reinvents business to promote cooking southern-style cuisine at home

The pandemic has forced many business owners to reinvent their business models altogether.

MACEDONIA, Ohio — The pandemic has forced many business owners to change the way that operate, including reinventing their business models altogether. For those in the food industry, the strain of the pandemic has been especially tough.

Claude Booker owns a business-to-business food service company that helps fill buffet lines for companies and organizations nationwide. You may not know the name, but there’s a chance you’ve eaten his products. It’s a business that doesn’t work well under current conditions.

“The first thing I had to understand is that the majority of what our company does is provide product for hot bars,” said Booker. “And nobody wants to eat at a hot bar during a pandemic. Buffets are obviously not favorable.”

Booker decided his best bet was to pivot his operations, finding a way to directly help customers who are prepping meals at home by packaging his southern-style recipes into easy to make meal kits that require little work. His new venture, Booker’s Soul Food Starters, was born.

“We created it where it speaks so much to our southern heritage that is African American focused culinary cuisine,” said Booker.

The seasoning mixes include all the essential ingredients for a dish – you simply provide some of the base items. There are mixes for macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, and peach cobbler.

While the company has only been active for a month, hundreds of orders have already been shipped. They’ve also contracted with a large grocer in New York and New Jersey to bring the product to shelves at more than 400 locations.

Credit: Instagram: Bookers Soul Food

That’s another important part of the business for Booker who recognizes it’s rare to see African American brands located in the aisles of major grocers. His product line proudly features a younger version of himself during a time when black faces are being removed from products like Aunt Jemima Syrup and Uncle Ben’s Rice because of the stereotype that come with those brands.

“They negatively depicted African American,” said Booker candidly. “They cleaned up the images, but we still understand they were birthed out of degrading African Americans. So to be able to say I’m speaking proudly to African American cuisines and culture – and as a chef – I think it’s going to be a great thing for my legacy.”

He also makes it a point to contribute to organizations that support educating African Americans whether through a historically black college or non-profit organization.

“Not having any kids, I feel like I get to be a part of every kids life even when I’m gone with the products success,” said Booker.

Even though Soul Food Starters began during a pandemic, Booker plans for them to be around long after it ends – promoting American values of family, community, education, and equality along the way. So if you’re up for some southern side dishes this holiday season, give Soul Food Starters a try – cooked safely in your own home.

“Keep it easy, stay safe, and stay in your bubble,” said Booker. “We’ve got you covered.”

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