By Arianna Velez
Mind, Body & Soul Food is a new restaurant located in Meriden, Connecticut. Owners Deja Durant and chef John Small are longtime family friends who share a love for soul food. Family-owned, together they follow recipes that have been passed down for generations. Offering a variety of dishes including seafood, chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens and more, their quality meals are made with the freshest ingredients. And, they will soon be offering daily specials and desserts, including delicious cheesecakes.
Durant is not new to owning a business. He recently closed his clothing store and wasn’t expecting to open a restaurant. When the store closed, he took some time off to reflect about what he really wanted to do, and this new opportunity just presented itself. After driving by the location daily and seeing the for-rent sign in the window of where Mind, Body & Soul Food now operates, he started thinking that he could do something. With many cooks in his family, he decided to give the number in the window a call. The result? What was once a Subway that sat empty for quite some time is now the new home of one of the best soul food restaurants in Meriden.
Durant is well known in his community, not just for his business endeavors but also for the role he plays in giving back. At his previous store, he held events for coat and back to school drives and more. Co-owner chef John Small was in business with Durant when he owned his clothing store, and he would regularly contribute 60 backpacks to the drives. Recently, Meriden held a Black Lives Matter rally where Durant and Small gave away free food. They made chicken and mac and cheese—which were a big hit.
“The line was like a mile long,” said Durant.
Both Durant and Small are just the type of people who naturally like to give back. For Durant, his daughters are what motivate him. Not only is he building a legacy for them but he’s also showing them what it means to uplift those in the community.
“For me, it’s my kids,” he shared. “I got all daughters. I have 4 of them. I’m trying to provide for them and also, like it’s legacy too. I want to leave them with a piece of something.”
Customer service won’t be the only thing to set Mind, Body & Soul Food apart. The cozy aesthetic filled with portraits of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and others create a warm vibe.
Aside from their amazing food, customer service plays a role in customers coming back to Mind, Body & Soul Food. Durant believes in always being polite and remembering everyone has their good days and bad. At the end of the day, he says, “we’re all human.” He believes in customer satisfaction and if the customer’s experience isn’t the best, he wants to know how he can make it better.
Customer service won’t be the only thing to set Mind, Body & Soul Food apart. The cozy aesthetic filled with portraits of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and others create a warm vibe. Chef Small, who learned to cook from his grandmother, relocated from New York to Connecticut when he was 17. He loves sharing his love of food with those around him and knows his food will make the difference when it comes to people coming back for more. Home cooking in a restaurant made with love and with the help of his wife is the perfect recipe for hungry guests to feel right at home.
Small and Durant believe that guests will be surprised, comfortable and satisfied after visiting their restaurant. Upon entering, the beautiful aesthetic will surprise guests and make them feel comfortable. The food will absolutely satisfy. And, Small and Durant make sure all meals are double checked even before leaving the kitchen, to ensure orders are correct and presentable.
Mind, Body & Soul Food held their grand opening on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Their first day open they sold out of food completely and even had to close two hours early—a complete success!
Owning a restaurant is a completely new experience for Durant, but it is clear he has a lot of support and his food already has received many amazing five-star reviews. With lines wrapped around the building, wait times may longer due to COVID restrictions, but guests are being understanding and staff is doing the best they can. The food and service are truly amazing, welcoming and satisfying.
One customer shared, “Mind, Body & Soul Food had great customer service from ordering to pick up! Food was amazing! Place is really nice inside! Kept it simple with fish, mac and cheese and corn bread. My very picky eaters devoured every crumb. We will back soon to try more stuff!”
While they’re closed on Mondays, guests can visit the restaurant Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:00am to 8:00pm and on Sunday from 12:00 to 6:00pm. They will soon be offering delivery.
Mind, Body & Soul Food is located at 511 West Main Street, Meriden, CT 06451. Learn more about Mind, Body & Soul Food on their website.
browse the shopblackct directory:
Pictured: Playa Bowls in West Hartford (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Yvette Young
People often ask, why does ShopBlackCT.com only focus on Black-owned businesses? The quick answer is because of the impact systemic racism has had on the Black community.
Let’s use the “Monopoly analogy”—utilized by Kimberly Latrice Jones on social media—to highlight how systemic racism has impacted the economic reality of Black people in America.
Imagine you are playing Monopoly for 450 years and for 400 of those years you are not allowed to have money, own any property or have any possessions. Then, for the next fifty years, everything that you earned was taken from you. You are playing for the benefit of the person you are playing against. You have to play to build their wealth and not your own. The question is, how do you win? The answer is that you can not win, because the game is fixed.
Left: Reginald White, owner of The Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul (Photo by Brenda De Los Santos Photography); Right: James Hanton, owner of The Singing Sliders (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
"Wealth matters, and when you have played the 'economics of racism Monopoly' for centuries, you do not have the wealth required to start a business and sustain a business through hard times."
Black people in America have been trying to catch up for centuries and when we put in the hard work and build our wealth it is burned to the ground like in Tulsa and Rosewood. This leaves us having to start all over again, forever trying to catch up.
We are asked to catch up in a system that was established to allow us to remain poor. Practices such as not granting loans to Black individuals so they can buy property is a barrier. Justifying that Black people don’t qualify for loans because they have minimal wealth is a barrier. Using redlining practices to decide what funding goes into certain communities and if a loan to purchase property in those areas is justifiable is a barrier.
Systemic racism limits access to financial resources that would allow Black people to invest in themselves and their businesses. Once a Black individual is able to acquire the resources needed to start a business, they are then confronted with the numerous barriers linked to maintaining that business. There is not an equal playing field for Black-owned businesses and they often do not have the resources to market and promote their businesses; often their revenue supports the cost of keeping the business open.
Because of systemic racism, there are only a small percentage of Black-owned businesses compared to the total number of businesses in the United States. In fact, only 4.3% of the US’ 22.2 million business owners are Black (Brookings Institute Report, Feb 2020).
Pictured: Your CBD Store Simsbury staff and co-owners, Katonya Hughey and Nakia Kearse. (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
When faced with obstacles such as a pandemic, the impact on Black-owned businesses becomes insurmountable. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on Black-owned businesses. The Bureau of Economic Research reported that 41% of Black-owned businesses closed as a result of the pandemic, as opposed to 17% of white-owned businesses. Wealth matters, and when you have played the “economics of racism Monopoly” for centuries, you do not have the wealth required to start a business and sustain a business through hard times. This is why it is important to support Black-owned businesses, because without additional support, many will struggle to survive.
ShopBlackCT.com was established to infuse support to Black-owned businesses by creating a platform for them to receive free marketing and promotion for their businesses, which in turn will help them reach new clientele, gain more customers and increase their revenue that will allow them to remain viable. Economic stability is crucial to the sustainability of these businesses.
Annette Khodra from Nettie’s Gift Garden stated, “Being posted on ShopBlackCT.com has brought awareness to Black-owned businesses such as mine, which has increased consumer traffic to my site. It is a blessing to have my business being featured on this site. I am grateful for the opportunity to receive free marketing through my connection to ShopBlackCT.com. This site is truly an asset for my business.”
Annette’s statement exemplifies why ShopBlackCT.com is critical and a much needed boost for Black-owned businesses. All small businesses matter, but when you look at the history of oppression the Black community has experienced and the lack of generational wealth as a result of that history, there should never be a debate about why there is a need to support Black-owned businesses.
Pictured: A delicious meal from My Wife Didn't Cook (Photo by Gary Pope, GDA Weddings)
browse the shopblackct directory:
Pictured: A Sweet Equations candy cake. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
By Allison Reynolds
After impressing New Year’s Eve party guests with a homemade candy cake several years ago, Sade Owoye took the nudges from her friends and family to start a bakery and, along with her mother Vanessa Owoye, Sweet Equations was born.
“Growing up, I always loved baking and making my own candy,” shared Vanessa. “With Sweet Equations, I can combine both of my passions, while sharing the gift of sweet treats with our customers.”
Nestled on Route 4, within The Farmington Inn & Suites at 827 Farmington Avenue in Farmington, this hidden gem is the only bakery in Connecticut specializing in candy cakes.
Pictured: Co-owners of Sweet Equations, Vanessa and Sade Owoye. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
"Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family."
Their cakes are a superior dessert experience made with the freshest ingredients, and their customer experience exceeds expectations—everyone who walks through their doors is treated like family. Quality, attention to detail, care and love are the bonus ingredients put in every cake they make.
I know this to be true, because I recently needed a cake to help celebrate my Dad’s new home—and satisfy his major sweet tooth. We ordered the Nutty Buddy and we’re still licking our lips. It was absolutely delicious and a heavenly mix of chocolate and peanut butter!
One of their most popular items, Sweet Equations candy cakes are built to order—and perfectly topped off with a bow!
“Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer,” shared Vanessa. “We greet and smile at every customer that comes to visit us. We educate them on our products and provide samples. We love getting to know what our customers like and helping them to find it in the store. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family.”
Pictured above: Nutty Buddy candy cake by Sweet Equations (Photo: Allison Reynolds)
And, these two know how to take “sweet” to the next level. As a “thank you” for helping others, they have donated to Relay for Life and Komen Foundation and many other local non-profits. They also donate to the local food pantry, schools, and several charities and causes. They even treat their employees with a complimentary cake on their birthdays!
“We look forward to continuing to make an impact in our community,” shared Vanessa.
The pair are reaching out by offering online cake decorating classes, a slight change from their pre-COVID popular (and fun!) in-person classes. Classes include Buttercream 101, Cake Meets Candy (Kat Walk So Special), Baker's Dozen, Let’s Decorate Cookies, My Pretty Unicorn.
“We can still be together even when we’re apart,” explained Sade. “And any experience level is welcome.”
Classes must be booked in advance, and more information is available at this link.
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
Favored by locals on Yelp, Sweet Equations is featured this month in “The Top 10 Bakeries Near Farmington, CT.” The bakery offers gift certificates, private pickup times (Saturdays), curbside pick-up and shipping. Visit www.sweetequations for information or to customize your order.
Sade and Vanessa will always ensure that your day ends on a sweet note!
Sweet Equations has been making headlines for years. Learn more at these links:
Cakes Plus Candy Make 'Sweet Equations' (Hartford Courant)
Small Business Spotlight: Sweet Equations (Innovation Hartford)
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
browse the shopblackct directory:
Pictured: Owner of Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul, Reginald White. (Photo: Brenda De Los Santos Photography)
By Brenda De Los Santos
For Reginald White, opening his Middletown, CT-based food trailer, The Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul, was the culmination of years of hard work and determination.
Crab Shack King, which officially opened as a food trailer in March, offers seafood with a touch of soul. Some fan favorites on the menu are the deep fried lobster, crab cakes, poboys and his signature “King Sauce.” You can get your seafood fix at 840-900 Washington Street from 11:00am-5:30pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11:00am-7:00pm Fridays and 2:00-9:00pm on Saturdays. Occasionally, White will have a pop-up location in Meriden as well.
Previously a truck driver, White was on vacation with his wife when he got the call that the company he worked for was filing for bankruptcy. Instead of being defeated by it, White, who has a certificate in catering, attended Lincoln Culinary Institute for a time, and has a family who all love to cook, took it as a sign that he had “finally gotten the green light to move forward with cooking.” With previous entrepreneurial experience as the former owner of Knockerball CT, starting his own business serving food “the way he likes to be served” was a natural next step.
“When I get up in the morning knowing that people love our food, it drives me to never go back [to the streets].”
Searching for nine months to find the perfect trailer for his business, White finally met two Black women who owned a marketing firm and were looking to sell their trailer. White says, “they felt his passion,” for creating delicious food and their trailer became Crab Shack King’s new home.
White’s expertise in the culinary arts is paying off—his popular menu of mouth-watering seafood often sells out, and his “King Sauce,” which is dairy-based and features all natural herbs and spices, is on the verge of being sold in local stores. He has experimented with creating a dairy-free version and has also played around with recipes for a vegan “crab” cake. He is continually expanding his knowledge, noting that he also learns from an employee who has been in the business for 30 years.
A self described “military brat” growing up, as a teen the streets called him, and White left home at 15 years of age. A former gang member and drug dealer, he spent time in both state and federal prison. It took determination and help from others for White to turn things around. In 2014, he founded Total Man Inc., which is geared towards providing alternatives for at-risk youth who are subject to the difficulties of gang membership, incarceration and much more. He said that his passion for mentoring comes from his desire to reach young men and women to help prevent them from making the same mistakes he did.
Crab Shack King is more than just a business for him, too. “When I get up in the morning knowing that people love our food,” says White, “it drives me to never go back [to the streets].” He takes pride in serving great food and providing excellent customer service. He likes to engage with his customers, getting them to laugh and feel comfortable. And for him, serving quality food is of the utmost importance; Crab Shack King’s seafood is always fresh, and every bite bursts with flavor as he marinates everything—right down to the crab that goes into the crab cakes.
browse the shopblackct directory:
Pictured: Owner of The Singing Sliders, James Hanton. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Alexandra Frisbie
On most Wednesday evenings parked outside the Little Red Barn in Winsted, CT, or on other days around lunchtime on South Main Street in Torrington, or in an industrial area on the town line with Harwinton, you will find James Hanton in his silver food trailer, happily cooking sliders and sandwiches for a crowd that may include hungry and tired truck drivers, workers who just want to take a break and enjoy some delicious fresh food, or patrons of the nearby brewery who would like some tasty pulled pork to accompany the beer in their bellies. Depending on how busy he is, Hanton may be singing while he cooks, a nod to his business name and slogan.
A few years ago, after working some jobs that didn’t pan out, Hanton began to dream about launching his own business venture. The idea of being his own boss and having job security was appealing. He thought about cooking, which he enjoys. Having been raised in South Carolina on Southern cooking, Hanton noticed that while there were plenty of Italian and Chinese food options, there were not many places serving fresh BBQ pork and Southern food locally in Connecticut. He and his wife also realized that at the time, there were no food trucks in their area. So they bought books and learned about the food truck business. They visited locations with food trucks, including the Long Wharf in New Haven, to see how they were run. Hanton took the CT Food Safety Management Course and got certified. In October 2018, Hanton and his wife, who co-owns the business, opened The Singing Sliders Food Trailer in Torrington.
According to Hanton, who has worked in restaurants, the big difference with food preparation in a food truck is understanding the difference between what you would like to serve and what you can serve. Despite the limitations, Hanton says he will only cook and serve food that is fresh, not previously frozen. When asked how quality translates in what he offers, Hanton replied “I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
“I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
Customer favorites are the BBQ bowl and pork sandwiches and sliders. Hanton explained that the sandwiches are larger than sliders; they are served on larger rolls that are sometimes lightly toasted. These days, he is constantly tweaking and adjusting the menu, entertaining customers’ suggestions and trying out healthy options. Some have requested the return of the orzo bowl with sautéed vegetables. Hanton offers a choice of sauces in which he will sauté the vegetables. If an item becomes popular, he may add it to the menu, at least temporarily. Recently, Hanton’s grandson took a cheeseburger and topped it with the mac and cheese Hanton gave him on the side. An aspiring rapper whose nickname is “OK Nitro,” his grandson topped that with BBQ sauce and raved about it. Hanton dubbed it the “OK Nitro Mac and Cheeseburger” and put it as a special on the menu.
The success in launching his food truck business did not come easy. Hanton recalled a time when he was getting started that things weren’t going well and he almost gave up. He was not confident that he would be able to make his dream a reality. Then it occurred to him that as bad as he felt, many others were much worse off. He felt compelled to help others instead of feeling down on his luck, and began to give away food once a month, no questions asked, from his food truck. He said that when he began to look at things differently, he began to see success—yet he continued to regularly provide free food. Due to COVID-19, he had to suspend this community effort, but he hopes to be able to resume soon.
I had to ask about the name of the business. Did the sliders themselves “sing” somehow, or does Hanton sing? He said that on some days he may be singing while cooking in the truck, but it was really his wife who thought up the name. He says it refers to the food—the sliders are so good they will make you sing! As for the singing sliders on the trailer, Hanton’s daughter drew the art freehand, which was transformed into an image that could be placed on the trailer.
Today, Hanton says what keeps him going is the independence of running his own business and having a job that allows him to interact with people. He says he has many repeat customers and is starting to build a fan base on social media. He likes to use Instagram and Facebook to let his followers know where he is going to be during the week. The three words he said best describe his business are “happy, satisfying and local.”
Hanton has catered for small groups (up to 150 people), including at the Little Red Barn brewery in Winsted, where he parks on Wednesday evenings. He has traveled to Waterbury and New Milford and is willing to bring the trailer to other locations in Connecticut.
One thing is for sure—if you see the silver trailer with Singing Sliders on the side, be sure to stop right away and get a bite. You won’t regret it.
South Main Street, Torrington (at the Harwinton line)
Monday and Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Industrial Park/Altra Industrial Motion, Inc, New Hartford, CT
Tuesday and Friday: 9:00am-1:00pm
At the Little Red Barn, 32 Lake Street, Winsted, CT (www.lrbbrewers.com)
View the WSFB story on The Singing Sliders
browse the shopblackct directory: