When you see a stove, a refrigerator and a sink, you may think: Dinner. When Chriss Brown sees them, she thinks: Opportunity. For more than 15 years, Chriss has been envisioning how to turn women’s kitchen skills into a better life.
Following a successful corporate career in restaurants and her own commercial food businesses, she launched The Empowered Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides a few determined women with training and mentorship in all aspects of having their own culinary business. Together with her seasoned and well-connected Advisory Board, Chriss walks the mentees through business operations, finance, kitchen operations, technology and marketing over a six-month period. As part of her vision, Chriss wanted her graduates to have some essential tools to enter the business world, and she applied to The Community Foundation for a grant. The result was The Empowered Kitchen Launch Kit – a backpack with a set of knives, an iPad loaded with financial software, a Square credit card reader and some customized printed items like business cards, a menu and/or an imprinted table cover for events.
“We wanted to give them help financially with the things they’re going to need to be successful,” Chriss notes. “And things like business cards and menus let them put something in someone’s hand so they remember who you are.”
Women like Tawny Fitzpatrick, who is just starting her Empowered Kitchen journey, have great ideas and skills, but need the support of seasoned professionals.
“I think The Empowered Kitchen will give me a long term, sustaining kind of business model so that I can be independent and successful,” she said.
Graduate Yvette Corbitt loved baking authentic Southern desserts for her family and friends, and got enough positive feedback to think about starting Sweet Soul Catering. With The Empowered Kitchen’s help, she learned the ropes and got access to a commercial kitchen.
“My journey really began with The Empowered Kitchen—from getting my license, to working in a commercial kitchen and becoming legitimate,” she said. In May, she launched her business at The Makers Market and sold out of her mouthwatering cakes and cookies first day.
Chriss Brown is thrilled to be able to provide the Launch Backpacks to these hard-working women, so they can have a strong start as entrepreneurs. “That’s what we’re looking to do—give opportunities to women that may be out there, but they may not know how to find it.”
She is also committed to the change it can bring to her community, noting that 32209 where she is based is a food desert.
“The nearest grocery store is two bus rides away, she observes. “If we bring these businesses into our community, we’re changing lives beyond the women we’re helping.”