The JessicaSimien.com weekly “She’s A Boss” series is all about women in leadership positions. Women are not celebrated enough for their amazing and one-of-a-kind accomplishments so we’ve decided to use our platform to shine light on some very talented and intelligent women working toward (and realizing) their dreams. Not only will you have an opportunity to learn about them, you will also get to learn from them as they share their business advice and pointers on how to maintain balance.
This week we caught up with Atlanta personal chef, Nikki Rowland. The 39-year-old chef and caterer has no formal culinary training but has managed to have a successful career feeding the masses. As a mom to two sons, Dean, 18, and Brandon, 16, Nikki makes family time a priority as she constantly balances her professional and personal time.
Read our interview with her below.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: Can you tell us a little about your company, She Cooks U Eat?
Nikki Rowland: I offer personal chef and catering services based in Atlanta, Georgia. I pride myself with an extensive menu, catering to all palettes. Food is my specialty!
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: When did you first learn to cook and can you remember what your first dish was?
NR: Cooking has always been a part of my family. Both sets of my grandparents loved cooking. My Gran Gran retired from cooking in a corporate kitchen. My PaPa was well known around Atlanta for his BBQ. My daddy is an excellent chef also. They all taught me various ways to cook at an early age. When I was in elementary school my grandmama, Mama Cat, use to buy boxes of cake mixes and would have me bake cakes until I got it right. Though I don’t do a lot of baking now, I now understand the importance of mastering a recipe – making it your own – from that experience.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: When did you decide that you wanted to become a chef?
NR: About 12 years ago my best friend from college encouraged me to become a chef. She came to my apartment for a BBQ and as and when she saw all the food I cooked “just because” she said, “You need to be doing this for a living! You need to be feeding everyone!” So I decided to start catering small events part-time. I decided to become a personal chef and caterer about nine years ago when I moved back to Atlanta.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: Many women want to take that leap of faith and start their own businesses but lack the confidence to do it. How did you take the leap?
NR: I’m a firm believer of taking that leap! I had the right support system to help me, family and friends that gave me emotional and mental support. I also had to put my self-confidence in overdrive. Not in a conceited way…but I had to tell myself, “If YOU don’t believe in you, how will expect everyone else to believe in you?”
I worked in the corporate sector but I knew that environment wasn’t for me; the micro-managing and my strong personality clashed. My mama passed away when I was 29 and she had turned 50 five months before she passed away. That whole experience terrified me. It made me realize I needed to do two things – focus on raising my sons and peruse my passion of cooking.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: What has been the easiest or most satisfying part of being an entrepreneur?
NR: The most satisfying part is pleasing my clients – getting that call or text of how much they enjoyed the food I prepared for them or how they need some “Nikki food” – and being able to master a recipe. Recently I was hired to cook in Baltimore for a birthday celebration and they wanted Congolese food. I’d honestly never made any Congolese recipes, and I told them that but they were confident that I could do it. I studied the recipes for the items they wanted to serve. The feeling of joy I had when I was told, “You made that salt fish perfectly” by the guest of honor (a true Congolese chef herself) was indescribable!
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: What about the most challenging part?
NR: The most challenging part is time management. As a chef you have to balance prep time, cook time, paperwork/marketing/invoicing time and most importantly, rest. The mental and physical can’t be productive without recharging.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: In the food industry, you often have to work on holidays or during normal resting hours. How are you able to maintain your personal life through it all?
NR: Well…dating has been obsolete for some time now (laughing) but I’m a mama first and foremost. I’ve been divorced for 13 years now, so my sons and I have been a team for a long time. They are very involved in my business also. But family time is a priority. I make it work. We always sit down and eat dinner together. They are very understanding about Ma having to sometimes work and cook/deliver for others on holidays. If there is something important going on with them, I make it work. Same with my daddy. I’m a true daddy’s girl. So he is priority right up there with my sons. I haven’t taken an actual vacation in forever. I’m hoping to do so for my 40th birthday in January.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs in your industry?
NR: Your goal should be to feed the world. You can hand out a million business cards, menus and flyers, but people can’t taste those things. As a chef, samples are your business partner. Invest in yourself by giving out samples. People will remember you and what they ate. Humility and time management are also key.