Chriss Brown started a food incubator and firmly believes the future is female in the food world.

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Chriss Brown
Credit: Charlotte Kesl

During the 15 years Chriss Brown spent rising through the ranks at Applebee's, she always yearned to cook her own food. "I was the only female in the kitchen, which made it difficult to find mentors. If I had a supportive environment back then, I may have found a better, faster path to pursue my culinary dreams," Brown reflects. Then, in 2005, she stepped out on a limb: she opened a café in Jacksonville, Florida, where her fried bologna sandwich quickly earned her a cult following. Brown sold that business five years later and started a commercial kitchen, plus a catering and event company. Now, it's her mission to help other women achieve their goals: "I know there are women out there who have a food-business idea they don't know how to make happen," she says. "I want to show them the way."

What She Did

In 2018, Brown launched The Empowered Kitchen, a six-month program that takes aspiring female entrepreneurs through all the steps of building and growing a food business. It covers everything from operations, finance and marketing to culinary skills. Brown also rallied six local small-business professionals to serve as board members and mentors. What's funding her nonprofit? The grilled cheese truck that Brown opened (shown in photo), which also functions as a test market for students, allowing them to serve their own creations and use customer feedback to fine-tune their products.

Why It's Cool

In December 2019, the Empowered Kitchen graduated its first class. Soon after, alumnae Aisha Ward and Felicia Alvarez opened Flavour Saviour Food Truck & Catering, showcasing their penchant for international dishes. "We learned that running a successful business requires more than a passion for good food," Ward says. While the pandemic has forced Brown to scale back her class size for 2021, she's still taking on a handful of applicants. "I had to make my own way in the culinary world so it was twice as hard and took twice as long," Brown says. "This program is a springboard for women to achieve their culinary dreams faster."

EatingWell, Jan/Feb 2021