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‘I’m going to take this year and make something of it’: The rise of a new Orlando Black-owned business

Ryan McKenzie starts Table Ghost Kitchen after fight with COVID-19

Ryan McKenzie starts Table Ghost Kitchen after a fight with COVID-19

After being laid off from working as a server at both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Universal Studios, 29-year-old, Ryan McKenzie packed up his car and took off for his hometown in Virginia.

Spending the early months of the pandemic with his sister and nieces, he discovered his knack for cooking could be turned into so much more.

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“I ended up basically being the private chef for my sister’s family of five including myself,” McKenzie said. “I guess it was a new experience for me, because who buys groceries two weeks at a time for a family of five who isn’t doing anything else except eating and watching movies?”

That’s when the idea of ‘Table Ghost Kitchen’ was born.

McKenzie said as the country began facing rising challenges in 2020, the idea of starting his own business grew.

“I was about 40 minutes away from Washington, D.C., I went and saw the Black Lives Matter protests,” McKenzie said. “After that, I thought ‘I’m going to take this year, and make something of it.”

The nationwide activism, opening his eyes, to all the things he could accomplish.

“I just got tired of having to report to somebody. Being Black, you’re always just walking on eggshells,” McKenzie said. “I realized I would rather be cooking at 3 o’clock in the morning, making my own money and building that respect.”

Once he came back to Orlando, McKenzie said things weren’t quite the same as he’d left them.

“I had COVID back in early March and got short-term memory loss. When I came home, I didn’t recognize anything.”

The virus, causing him to lose weight, have trouble breathing and become frail.

“There was a moment where I literally thought I was going to die and my body started to freeze up. You kind of take life for granted when you’re healthy,” McKenzie said. “I knew, truthfully, I wanted to be excellent at what I do.”

After recovering, McKenzie took the time to get back in shape, and most importantly, get back in the kitchen.

“I realized it doesn’t take much. My brother was selling beef jerky for 15 years. Now, he owns a beachfront restaurant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina called ‘J-Mike’s Flavor Station.”

McKenzie started Table Ghost Kitchen with his girlfriend, Stevie Andujar, specializing in homemade cookies. The couple, continuing to learn and grow, as they go.

“I just used my credit card. We were down about 700 dollars for months at least until it hit Christmas season. Then we finally started to make a profit and really getting somewhere,” McKenzie said.

Since starting, the couple has become a team. McKenzie, spending his time the kitchen; Andujar, handling all the media aspects that come with owning a small business.

“When we met it sort of formed a fusion, and it sparked both of us to move forward with that,” Andujar explained.

Table Ghost Kitchen is now looking to expand and get its name out in the world.

“We’re planning on going to more farmers markets, possible consignment deals,” McKenzie said. “Cooking for my family those few months-- it taught me how to shop for food in such big quantities and really look at pricing.”

Table Ghost Kitchen is releasing a featured cookie in honor of Black History Month. The “black cookies matter” cookie will be made with black cocoa and a bit of coconut.

To learn more about Table Ghost Kitchen visit their Facebook page and Instagram.