Today we’d like to introduce you to Enita and Isaiah Thomas.
Enita and Isaiah, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I had just graduated from culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta in September of 2012 and landed a job at a private country club in midtown. My mother passed away suddenly from a stroke in August and I found out that November that I was pregnant with my 2nd child Honor Marie. I was overwhelmed, hurt, excited, grieving and happy all at the same time. Having been in this industry since I was 14 years old, I told my husband that I was tired and just really needed a break from working for a few months, just so that I can gather my life back together. I put my in my 2 weeks notice in December of 2012 and I felt free!
I always wanted to be a business owner for as long as I could remember and I loved and enjoyed being a chef and I knew I had to use this time off to go after my vision. My own food business!!! I looked into food trucks, food carts, restaurants, kiosk, meal prep etc. you name it, I researched it. I spent over 3 months researching the food industry in Atlanta and we decided catering was for us. We came up with the name Mouthfeel Catering LLC. (mouthfeel is a culinary term that means the tactile sensation that food gives your mouth) and hit the ground running. We met with a business consultant who directed us to legal paperwork, a shared kitchen, a logo and a website. We felt like Mouthfeel finally came to life.
I was excited! I set up all my social media accounts and started advertising. Our very first job was not a request but a referral, from Chef Hudson Rouse. I worked briefly with Hudson at another restaurant before he went over to Home Grown and he knew I had interest in starting my own catering business. Hudson messaged me on Facebook asking me if I wanted to cater a Halloween party for one of his customers. I was excited and said yes. I got the clients info from Hudson and booked my first official client.
That first gig was exhausting, frustrating, confusing and quite eye-opening. We had no idea of the amount of work that went into a catering project for 100+ people with only 2 people as the whole entire staff. Let’s just say the food got there on time, but it took us 1 hour to set it up. The home was filling up with guest dressed like everything imaginable and they had a lot of food. I was already tired from all the cooking and prepping, plus I had a toddler, a 7-year-old, my husband still had a full-time job and I was pregnant with my son Maximus on top of everything, so it did not go as planned. The perfectionist control freak in me back then exploded inside. I felt so disappointed in myself, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. Although that event did not go well, we allowed ourselves to learn from it and kept pushing.
As time went on we continued to push Mouthfeel hard, only to keep landing unpaid but great exposure events like The Rice Awards, The African Children’s Fund, and The Family Food Fest. We did demos at Greenbriar Mall, pop-ups at The Home Depot in Riverdale, GA, we cooked for non-profits and a few other festivals. We finally landed our very first corporate contract with Amerigroup, we catered for them for almost a year. We finally started getting calls to catering actual events and we even did a wedding expo. We were doing aight, but we defiantly weren’t where we wanted or needed to be. I still felt as if something was missing. I did more research and came across SCORE ATL. I made an appointment and my life as an entrepreneur changed. I learned about branding, business plans, consulting and everything I was lacking to move to the next level. One thing my mentor asked me was “where did I see my business in 10 years?” I told her “worldwide!” and she said “off of catering alone? Good luck!” She told me I had better get a bigger vision if I wanted to expand my business worldwide. So I decided to expand my services to chef for hire, cooking lessons, private chef services and meal prep. So I dropped the catering and changed the name to Mouthfeel Culinary Co.
We were getting hired here and there and we were getting better as caterers, but I wasn’t feeling the food we were doing. So we sat down as chefs and put our heads together and we decided to go back to the thing that influenced us. For me, it was sitting at both of my grandmother’s tables full of comforting, delicious, from scratch southern meals, urban gardens, and fields where they grew there own food and the love they had for the people they cooked for. For my husband, it’s his Five Star, fine dining, French and German culinary training and his perfection of cooking techniques that influenced Mouthfeel’s menu and vibe. We fused our styles and created The Mouthfeel Experience! Eclectic Urban Farm to Table Cuisine. We started connecting with local farmers and purveyors to bring our food quality up and to also give back to the community and support local sustainability. We also decided that we would scale down the number of guests we would accommodate. Honestly, it’s a 1.5 man show and I refuse to stiff my clients on quality, so I only do events for parties of 50 people or less and this has worked out me.
Back 2015 I saw a flyer on Instagram about Sunday Soul Sessions at Moods Music in Little 5 Points hosted by Dj Jamad. I messaged him about Mouthfeel possibly doing food on Sundays. We talked and it worked out. We did the Sunday Soul Sessions for 6 weeks. We made all kinds of funky farm to table small bites and cocktails. That was another life-changing cycle for Mouthfeel because it put us in front of a whole other audience. The musicians, the DJ’s, the artist, the music lovers and that opportunity allowed us to be more open and accommodating each week as we learned about vegan clientele. We met a lot of dope people at Moods Music which opened more doors for us. Since then we have collaborated with Chop It Up Atl, Articulate, Two Dough Girls, Village Market ATL, 95th Street Tacos, Food Well Alliance and Emory University the list goes on but, it’s still growing.
We recently relocated from Buckhead to SW Atlanta in August and celebrated our 4th year anniversary back in October by hosting our very first Urban Farm to Table Dinner at Studio No 7. which was a success. We are looking forward to doing a lot more pop-ups this year, collaborating with other businesses, attending more local agriculture events, hosting more farm to table dinners and of course gaining new clients. We love working with community organizations and showing support to our friends. Atlanta is so dope right now and I’m happy we get to call it home and we get to feed the city as well.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Not at all! Our personal life was falling apart while our entrepreneurial life was growing. I stopped working to start, build and support this business while I was pregnant. I literally took a whole income out of the home with a baby on the way to start a business! Utilities were getting cut off, we were falling behind on bills, our over drafted account would be in the -$800 to -$900″s monthly, my husband was stressed, I was stressed, but we were just grinning and bearing it. I just kept telling myself it all apart of the process. It was hard on our marriage and the environment of the home and defiantly on the business. Mouthfeel had to survive 3 evictions, 2 repos, 18 combined months of homelessness, sleeping in cars, hotels, on peoples floors, 2 births, and 5 moves. All this personal trauma was reflective in our business and it kept us from getting callbacks, referrals, and repeat business.
We would show up with wonderful food but frustrated, mad, pissed and angry about our life. Sometimes it was hard to push through those events where you felt like you didn’t see a dime of the money the client paid because everything was already spent. There were a few times where the babysitters canceled and we had to bring all three of the kids with us to events. We have had so many challenges and setbacks its crazy. We have made it to a point where we can sit back and talk about it and slightly laugh and say at least we didn’t die!
We truly learned from the hard times and we are grateful for them because they shaped us into the business we are today. We know what the bottom feels like, and we know that we will do whatever it takes not to go back! down there.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Mouthfeel Culinary Co. story. Tell us more about the business.
We are a small event cater aka private caterer, aka intimate caterer. We specialize in Urban Farm to Table Intimate Catering. We source mostly from local farmers, bakeries and food artisans in the Atlanta area such as Gilliam’s Community Garden, Truly Living Well, Mayflor Farms and Gangstas to Growers. We are known for putting heavy technique on simple food from a great source! Some of our signature dishes include our bad chicken deviled eggs, stir-fry noodles, smorgasbords and our loaded mac n cheese bites. I’m proud that we stand by our brand and we gained 90% of our client through word of mouth. What sets us apart is that we are a husband and wife team from 2 different culinary backgrounds coming together to create some of Atlanta’s new favorite foods.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’d say we have been fortunate enough to stick by each other when it got rough and not give up on each other and the business. Now it did take a lot of unfortunate events to happen to make us that wiser about business and in our life. Everything had a purpose.
- Website: www.mouthfeelculinaryco.com
- Phone: 4702074377
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: Mouthfeel Culinary Co.
- Facebook: Mouthfeel Culinary Co.
- Twitter: @mouthfeelatl