Milwaukee Chef Shelita Furlow Has Had To Pivot To Keep Her Business Going The Past Year
Many small minority-owned businesses are struggling right now. While COVID-19 has touched just about every business one way or another, studies have shown minority businesses, which even in pre-pandemic times found it more difficult to access capital, are closing at much higher rates than white-owned businesses.
This month, WUWM is speaking to some small, local, minority business owners for a series we’re calling COVID Earners. For our first installment, WUWM's LaToya Dennis talks with Shelita Furlow. She’s a Milwaukee-based caterer who says that up until about a year ago she spent a lot of her time catering events.
When it comes to food, Furlow says you name it and she can make it.
“I make all different types of cuisine from soul food to Italian food; fusion is my specialty. I love mixing cultures together. Pretty much anything that you can think of, I make,” she says.
But when much of the U.S. shut down last March due to the spread of COVID-19, Furlow says so did most of her business.
Furlow is a self-taught chef. She owns Taste of Love Catering Company, and says the name of her business comes from the fact that you can’t help but taste the love she puts into her food.
Furlow says the shutdown left her scrambling.
“You prepare for emergencies like weather, different things like that but not for the city, the city to be shut down,” she says.
Furlow says she had to figure out how to pivot in order to remain in business.
“I really put an emphasis on my intimate settings. I knew that people still longed to be in the company of their loved ones and families and that they were really nervous to go out to restaurants and different things like that and so I brought the restaurant feel to them. I also recognize that people are still going to eat. And so while I’m not doing parties of 500 and weddings and different things like that, I still have offerings that I can do by offering lunch and dinner varieties,” she explains.
Furlow says that in addition to being a chef, she’s also an instructor. She offers individual and small group in-person cooking lessons and is in the process of setting up a virtual platform. Furlow also helps other food businesses with safety certifications and improving their products.
Still, Furlow says without the large catering events that she’s used to, her business is down about 45%.
She says one of the hardest things about being a small business owner during the pandemic has been visibility.
“As a smaller business, compared to you know the bigger entities that, you know, have their branding and marketing together and all of that stuff, that is one of the biggest things being a smaller business is continuing to be seen. Prior to, I would do maybe two or three vending events during the month and that was a way for me to market to other people who would normally not see me outside of social media or know that I exist,” she says.
Even with the trials of this past year, Furlow says she’s never thought about throwing in the towel.
"Honestly, I love what I do. This is also ministry to me. I get to meet all different types of people from all different walks of life and I really love feeding people,” she says.
Furlow says the good thing is that she hasn’t had to change the way she cooks. “I’m a from scratch chef, so I have not had to change the way that I do service in order to provide great service,” she says.
Furlow says as for another positive, she’s beginning to see the light at the end of tunnel. She says some vending events are beginning to return, though they are a lot smaller than they used to be. She also says she's gained some new clients throughout this time through her offerings as a personal chef and her offering lunches and dinners.