The best food has to have more than great ingredients – that’s a given. To go beyond typically tasty, there has to be a bit of soul. If it’s done right, every bite makes you want to sprout wings and fly.
S.O.A.R. (Sisters on a Roll Mobile Cafe & Catering) is appropriately named. Its dishes are good and good for you thanks to founder and visionary Harriette Brown, better known as Chef Bee. It is her passion for healthy food and helping her community that makes S.O.A.R., soar.
She worked hard to get her own health under control and wants to pass what she learned on to others through her cooking.
“I had gotten up to 417 pounds and it bothered me,” Brown says. “I knew my health was an issue and if I didn’t do something about it, I wasn’t going to be here for my children and grandchildren.”
She visited doctors, tried all sorts of diets, but still gained weight. She tried starving herself, heart smart recipes, and all sorts of programs, but the weight kept on piling on. Finally, she made the decision to change what she was eating and things started to turn around. Those new food choices and help from surgery made a huge difference.
If it’s done right, every bite makes you want to sprout wings and fly.
While she was facing her own challenges, she noticed many of her friends were also struggling with various health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes. Her friends knew she was great in the kitchen and could change up recipes to make them healthier.
Brown took that skill to S.O.A.R. where she loves to take favorite recipes and modify them to be healthier, even gluten-free. Salisbury steak, wings, even egg rolls take on a new (healthier) spin after Chef Bee puts her touch on them.
One thing is for sure, according to those that have sampled her creations, there is no lack of flavor and genuine love in what she makes. She boasts that with just one taste, she can recreate any dish. In all of the time she has been cooking and creating, her palette hasn’t failed her yet.
S.O.A.R. got its start after Chef Bee attended an entrepreneurial training class put on through Southwest Solutions’ ProsperUS Detroit. The program helps Detroit residents, particularly those from African-American, Latino and Arab-American communities, launch their own businesses.
She was there as a guest with friend Sharon DuMas, who was looking for ideas that would help grow her already successful organization, Full and Fabulous, which helps plus-size women and teens deal with peer pressure. Attending the sessions with DuMas, Chef Bee was invited to join in and maybe start her own company.
At the time, DuMas was injured and needed help getting to class. While pushing her around in a wheelchair, Chef Bee came up with the name of her company, Sisters on a Roll.
When it came time for graduation from the program a party was planned. The caterer backed out at the last minute and couldn’t make the food. Brown stepped in and saved the day. With a small budget and not much time to prepare, she made magic happen. People liked her food so much they agreed she should start a food business.
S.O.A.R. is now setting its sights on opening a restaurant.
“She can make something out of nothing,” says DuMas, indicating that skill can also help those in her program.
“For those in Full and Fabulous, they need to learn how to do a lot with few resources,” she says. “What they use to feed their families is not always the top of the line ingredients, so sometimes they have to make do and get creative. That was a skill our girls needed – how to create something healthy from what is available.”
DuMas supported Chef Bee from the very beginning and even loaned her a trailer to make her food deliveries for nearly three years.
From those humble beginnings, S.O.A.R. is now setting its sights on opening a restaurant. Chef Bee is trying to secure funding and a location – an arduous process, she admits.
“You have a dream and a vision and then you get into it and find out how much it actually takes to make it happen,” she says. “I want to be a viable and productive business.”
So, how do you go from catering small events to opening up a restaurant? It’s all part of Chef Bee’s master plan. From a young age, she has wanted to own her own business. It’s in her blood. Years ago, her grandparents owned the Thunderbird Party Store in Detroit. She saw that growing up and always wanted to return to her family’s entrepreneurial roots.
“I remember my grandparents’ store. It was some of the best memories I had,” she says. “Now, I want to set up my own legacy for my family.”
There are also plans on the table for a food truck with healthy, tasty options, available on the street.
Chef Bee says she always knew she wanted to do something important. Although as the mother of 10 who has lived in Detroit all of her life, there was a time she didn’t know how that importance would show up.
“I’ve always been community-minded,” she says. “I care about people and try to help where I can.”
When the homeless in her neighborhood were hungry, she would gather meager ingredients from community food pantries, make meals out of whatever she could get and put them on her porch for anyone to come by and get something to eat.
“The plates of food became a way to show love, concern and break down barriers,” she says. “Food crosses economic and social divides and brings people together.”
Each week, Brown continues to feed the homeless, now, mostly by delivering meals and volunteering. She adds her own special flare to every meal she makes and creatively stretches resources.
Whether cooking for friends and family, volunteering to feed the homeless in her neighborhood or creating new, healthier takes on favorite recipes, Chef Bee and S.O.A.R. are flying high in the Motor City and making a difference.