We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Tori Brown a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Tori, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Coming up with the idea is so exciting, but then comes the hard part – executing. Too often the media ignores the execution part and goes from idea to success, skipping over the nitty, gritty details of executing in the early days. We think that’s a disservice both to the entrepreneurs who built something amazing as well as the public who isn’t getting a realistic picture of what it takes to succeed. So, we’d really appreciate if you could open up about your execution story – how did you go from idea to execution?
The idea was to one day open a restaurant. I did not want to dive all the way in financially opening a brick-and-mortar, so I implemented this co-op shared kitchen space idea from when I used to live in Philadelphia and visit the Terminal Market. It was a space for vendors and small businesses housed under one roof to sell their products.
I had no formal culinary training, but I grew up and inherited my late Grandmother’s teachings and love for southern cooking, which was the best culinary training anyone could have.
I did my research, established my LLC, secured my ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification by the National; Restaurant Association, secured my food/health permit, obtained business insurance and locked in a few mentors within the food industry.
In 2015, I took that idea and passion and approached an already established eatery in town and asked Owner, Teresa Dozier-Thompson of Mac’ It, if she would be willing to share her restaurant/kitchen space and allow me to serve breakfast/brunch Saturday and Sundays, to start. Which later turned into serving food Thursday-Sunday.
My team and I did a lot of gorilla street and social media marketing for the grand opening. I recall even posting a flyer under Dunkin Donuts drive though window. My menu consisted of about 8 meals, ranging from best-sellers like Fish and Grits, Chicken and Waffles, and my Bamma Hot Wings.
We packed out the cozy eatery every weekend and created a buzz within the community and neighboring towns.
While things were going well, me not ever running a kitchen before, I learned how labor-intensive and time-consuming it was. From prep, cooking, serving, clean-up, plus back-end business operations, it was a lot to handle and after two years I decided owning a full-service restaurant wasn’t for me and the lifestyle I wanted. My priority was my family, being an active Mother and maintaining a healthy life/work balance, so I decided to segway into catering. That way I could plan my catering jobs, still work a regular job if needed and take clients tailored around my schedule.
Outside of creating my own clientele, I immediately signed on as an EZ cater vendor because I knew the exposure to their corporate clients was my target audience. I served for companies like Datto, one of the largest hedge funds, ABC Good Morning America, WWE, Wells Fargo, Yale and more. Seven years later it has been an amazing journey.
I learned and figured out that I did not have to give up on my dream of serving food. I just had to pivot and think outside the box; to work smarter not harder.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Shef, Tori Brown and I spell Shef with an S, to emphasize S-H-E, to represent women in the food industry,
I have been introducing the North to an authentic Southern-style catering menu and private dining experience since 2015, with love and true Southern sass, by way of my late Grandmother’s (Sarah Brown) teachings, from Santee, SC .
I have a scaling food product line with items like my famous Bamma Fish Fry (used by celebrity, Tabitha Brown and Kendall Kyndall and over 150 Food Influencers like Kimmy’s Kreations, The Rapping Chef, Law Cannon to name a few). I also created Breakfast Belle Hot Sauce and Bamma Chicken Fry. Bamma Fish Fry and Chicken Fry are both seasoned cornmeal breading for poultry or seafood.
I am also a certified national minority-owned business/diversity supplier by NMSDC and the United States Black Chamber of Commerce and by the State of Connecticut.
I am a recent grant recipient of the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC), Equity Match Program. The 2nd place pitch winner of the reSET, Impact Accelerator Program and a past 100 Women of Color Honoree.
It’s been seven worthwhile years of grinding, learning and remaining consistent and true to my brand and it’s organic growth. It hasn’t been easy, but I have always been one to “believe it before I see it”. Having a vision and seeing myself execute each goal or milestone I set forth, is what keeps me going. Plus my Daughter watching me and wanting to learn about my business is another major factor that encourages me to keep going strong because I am creating a legacy for her.
I want the world to know that Breakfast Belle started as just a vision to becoming reality. That my brand and story will touch and inspire young women and have a social impact on the food industry.
My food product line will continue to grow and I will have my food product line in major grocery stores in 2023. Shef, Tori Brown and Breakfast Belle WILL BE a household brand/name.
Alright – let’s talk about marketing or sales – do you have any fun stories about a risk you’ve taken or something else exciting on the sales and marketing side?
My favorite marketing story is the one of celebrity Tabitha Brown, gracefully endorsing my product, Bamma Fish Fry… not once, but twice.
Right before the pandemic, Tabitha Brown was scheduled to be the host for the CT Vegan Festival that I was suppose to be a vendor at. I was planning to introduce myself and give her samples of my product since it is vegan friendly. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to the pandemic. My friend Teresa who was one of the organizers encouraged me to send the products to her PO Box and we did.
Several months went by and I didn’t hear anything, so I assumed Tabitha never received it or didn’t have the time to try it since her career was taking off at full lighting speed and was deemed “America’s Mom”.
I totally understood and simply continued on my journey, while cheering on her success. Then one morning I woke to tons of sales and social media notifications that she posted my Bamma Fish Fry Cornmeal Breading, to make fried hearts of palm. Then a few months later she posted it again to make fried green tomatoes and told everyone “it’s her favorite!”.
That moment made my dreams and all the hard work I put in over the years, feel seen and appreciated. Her selfless endorsement and using her platform to support a small woman-owned businesses like mine was a game changer and I am forever grateful for her. Those two moments definitely helped me take that leap of faith to pursue my food product line full-time and go for what I want.
Okay – so how did you figure out the manufacturing part? Did you have prior experience?
I am licensed to self-manufacture my own products, but I have a wonderful woman-owned co-packer/manufacturer that handles it for me.
The process of finding co-packer that could make sauces was plenty, but finding someone that could do dry and liquid was very limited . I did a lot of research and calling around before I found one that met my needs and pays attention to the details.
My near future goal is to build my own manufacturing facility, that will also allow other aspiring “spice and seasoning queens” to mass produce their products.
My advice is to stay consistent in all you do. Sometimes you’ll have to pivot, but stay consistent. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or what you want! Also, know your target market, stay true to yourself and never compromise on your vision/end goals.
Side note: Praises to The Most High for ordering my steps! Thank you to my family, friends and mentors for their support throughout my journey. A big thanks to every customer that has purchased from me and the Influencers that genuinely love and endorse my brand.
- Website: www.breakfastbelle.com
- Instagram: @bammfishfryandmore @sheissheftori
- Facebook: Bamma Food Products
Photographer: Keith Claytor, Time Frozen Photography Shot at Aitoro Appliance