Why launch a food service brand built around health in a city known for southern cuisine?
The primary reason is that I lost two very close friends of mine, one to cancer and another to heart disease. Prior to them passing, I had done a lot of research on how food affects the body and the certain disease are directly connected to how we eat.
When did you discover your passion for cooking?
I have always had a passion for cooking. I used to help my mom with her catering jobs in New York when I was a very young girl. As an adult, I have always done it on the side, but there was never really a focus on expanding it into a business. I come from a Caribbean and Latin background where food is very heavily a part of our culture. I was inspired to find a way to make Latin and Caribbean food healthy, but still, keep the signature tastes and culture incorporated in what I do.
Let’s talk about some of the menu items that you offer.
We try to focus on a lot of plant-based options, particularly when we include Caribbean or Latin culture cuisines. We still do the curry and jerked spices, but we utilize more plant-based or healthier items. As opposed to you getting jerked chicken, you would get jerked fish. We try to hone in on keeping those Caribbean spice and Latin flavors but making sure that we are providing healthier options. Some of our plant-based foods like kale, squash, and zucchini replace heavier starch-based products. For proteins, we use various kinds of mushrooms while incorporating those same ethnic flavors.
Making the choice to eat healthier can be a drastic change for some.
The idea that we really want to focus on is that this is a lifestyle. We understand that people need to transition. I think a lot of people become nervous when they hear the terms vegan and vegetarian. Our focus is to help people understand that if you want to stop eating meat, we can get you to the point where you stop eating meat including chicken and turkey. However, if you are initially starting out where we are introducing you to kale, but you are still weaning yourself off chicken, we can do a healthy chicken option as far as chicken breast and gradually transition you. We don’t want people to be scared by terms.
The reason we call ourselves A Healthy Concept is that we don’t just focus on vegan, plant-based, or alkaline meals. We develop a course of action based on whatever you already have in your diet and prepare it in a healthier way, gradually transitioning you towards healthier options.
Being Afro-Latino and having launched a business in the south, share with us any experiences you have had with colorism.
There were a few Latin people that I’ve run into who would question me about my background because they didn’t understand that just because I’m Black, I am also Panamanian as well. They would say I couldn’t be Spanish because I don’t look like what most people expect, a light-complexioned woman with long straight hair. I had to explain the culture of Panama where my family comes from, where it is located, and how they pursued the American dream coming here as immigrants. It also inspired me to become an entrepreneur and pursue my dream of cooking and sharing my culture with others…Just because I’m Black doesn’t detract my Latin American roots.
What has been the biggest lesson that you have learned as an entrepreneur?
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur has been that you not only have to focus on your passion because you can have passion or talent, but you have to also focus on the how to develop the business of it all so that your success is long-term. I have always had a passion to do this. I love to cook. What I had to do was focus on the business aspects of things, while not losing my creative talent and my passion for what I do. At the end of the day, you can enjoy and love the work, but if it’s not paying the bills, you are not going to be able to do it for a long period of time.
My challenge was learning how to turn my talent into a business, understanding food costs, and dealing with different vendors to find the best products at the most affordable prices so that I can run a lucrative business.