ORLANDO, Fla. – Black History Month is a time to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans to our nation’s heritage and culture.
That includes our food culture. Florida is home to many accomplished Black chefs and business owners who have made it their life’s work to feed people from all walks of life. There are also many Black advocates and nonprofits working to give everyone access to healthy, nutritious meals — making sure no one goes hungry.
The Florida Foodie podcast has featured a small fraction of these people who have a huge impact on what we eat every day here in Florida.
Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:
Below is a list of all the Black chefs, business owners and advocates highlighted on Florida Foodie:
Shantell Williams, chef/owner at Shantell’s Just Until
Shantel Williams is the chef and owner at Shantell’s Just Until in Sanford.
She is also a biker and mother of 10. Williams started her culinary journey in an effort to provide healthy meals to her daughter, who is diabetic.
You can read more about her here.
Glen Providence, Hebni Nutrition
Glen Providence is the executive director of Hebni Nutrition. Hebni is a nonprofit aimed at improving education and access to healthy food around Central Florida.
The group has a mobile farmers market, the Fresh Stop Bus.
Lakeisha Hood, Florida’s director of Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness
Lakeisha Hood is the director for the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness for the state of Florida.
Her department helps run the Summer BreakSpot program across the state, which provides free meals to children during summer break, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Jenn Ross, chef/owner at Dajen Eats
Jenn Ross started Dajen Eats, which serves vegan food with a Jamaican flair, inside of a gas station.
She eventually grew into her own space in Eatonville and is now in the process of expanding her restaurant.
Kenny Neal, chef/owner at Kolaiah’s Catering
Kenny Neal is the chef and owner at Kolaiah’s Catering.
He started out selling barbecue on the corner while he was between jobs. Eventually, he went through Second Harvest of Central Florida’s Culinary Training Program.
Neal joined the Florida Foodie podcast with Izzy Santiago, one of Second Harvest’s culinary instructors.
Neal Crosier, owner of Popcorn Junkie
Neal Crosier opened Popcorn Junkie in the heart of Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood after moving to the area from Chicago.
Crosier and his wife have been working to preserve the history of the historically Black neighborhood area, while continuing to build it up.
Nick Aikens & Shannea Akins, owners of Nikki’s Place
Chef Nick Aikens has spent much of his life in the kitchen with his family. He got his start working for his aunt in 1952. Since then, he’s served meals to Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley, but, above all, Aikens said he is “cooking for the people.”
He runs Nikki’s Place with his wife and daughter, Shannea “Nikki” Akins — who plans to take over Nikki’s Place someday.
Kwame Boakye, chef/owner at Chicken Fire
The demand far outweighed what a cart could provide and Chicken Fire is now set up in a brick-and-mortar location in Orlando’s Coytown neighborhood.
You can read more about it here.
Desiree Noisette, owner of Mermosa
Desiree Noisette, the owner of Mermosa Wines, is all about audacity. Desiree Noisette credits it all to Celestine Noisette, her ancestor who lived in Haiti during the late 1700s and married a white Frenchman. When her husband died, she decided to stay in Charleston and take over her family’s land and business as a free woman.
Desiree Noisette said her ancestor’s powerful voice still inspires her to this day,
Thierry Francois & Alexis Hicks, Black Bee Honey
Black Bee Honey is a student entrepreneurship program at the Parramore Kidz Zone that was founded in 2017, allowing students to learn beekeeping, honey production and sales.
Thierry Francois is a graduate of the 10-week program who said he plans to take the skills learned at Black Bee and eventually start his own business. He was joined by Alexis Hicks — the case manager for families, parks and recreation with Parramore Kidz Zone — to talk about the program and the benefits it is bringing to the community.
Frank Bailey, founder of Grow Orlando
Bailey wants to end what he calls “food apartheid.” Grow Orlando teaches kids landscaping and urban farming techniques with the goal of helping under-served communities gain more access to healthy food.
You can read more about Grow Orlando here.
Shereece Mitchell, founder of Butterfly Lifestyle
Shereece Mitchell transformed her life and her health and now, she wants to do the same for others.
In 2015, Mitchell was working in IT in South Florida when she began her journey, losing 100 pounds in the process. Eventually, she started Butterfly Lifestyle, a nonprofit focused on promoting health and wellness, encouraging people to change their lifestyles rather than just their diets.
When the pandemic hit and food insecurity became a growing issue, Mitchell shifted her focus toward feeding people in need.
You can find out more about her story here.
Ryan McKenzie, chef/co-owner of Table Ghost Kitchen
McKenzie was between jobs when he and Andujar decided to make some cookies one day, posting pictures of the baked good to Instagram. People took notice, asking if they could buy some of the cookies for themselves and that was the start of Table.