KC Entrepreneur Exits Corporate World to Cook Up Videos of Global Culinary Eats
Photo credit: Allrecipes.com
Five years ago, Shelia Johnson had never used a camera tripod. Today, the Kansas City native is the owner, executive producer and host of Gangsta Goodies Kitchen, a digital cooking-themed talk show that boasts more than 150 episodes on YouTube.
“For the first year and a half, I had a friend come over every Saturday and literally hold my smartphone camera up and record me,” Shelia says. “Finally, someone told me I should use a tripod. Now, I set up the camera and the lights, shoot everything myself and then send the footage to my editor.”
Creating content and community connections
Shelia, 53, publishes new content each week showcasing mouthwatering recipes and engaging chats with influential Kansas Citians. Recently, she prepared jerk chicken while discussing gun education and safety with LaTasha Monique, owner of Synergy Tactical and co-founder of Pretty Pistols Posse. Shelia whipped up pepper steak with Jerren Thornhill and I'Keim Berger of One Pair, a shoe store designed and operated by inner city kids. And she crafted a peach bourbon cocktail with Tamara Mcconnell of Breathe Beverages. Some of her other guests include Joseph Thomas, barbershop owner and founder of The Know Joey? Foundation, Phil Glynn, president of Travois, and Jolie Justice, general counsel, Truman Medical Centers.
“One of my mentors asked me what my ideal job would be,” Shelia says. “I easily answered that I would love to invite people into my space to feed them and provide them with informational resources to enhance their lives. With Gangsta Goodies Kitchen, I’m able to invite the most amazing local people into the studio. We cook together, we eat together and the interviews provide a unique opportunity for the guests to share their businesses, nonprofits, community programs, information and resources with our viewers.”
Shelia’s background equips her to keep up with the demands of a vigorous schedule. As a single mother, she worked full-time while raising her two daughters and earning a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and a Master of Business Administration from Rockhurst University. The desire to be an entrepreneur came in 2011 when she was diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma cancer. Faced with her mortality, Shelia decided to walk away from her corporate career to pursue her longtime passion for food. The first person Shelia talked to about Gangsta Goodies Kitchen was her late mother, who encouraged her to start the business as soon as possible.
“Food was my mother's love language," Shelia says. “I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her and my two brothers. One of the ways I show love for my family and friends is through creating delicious meals for them. It's an honor for me to be able to do that.”
Since launching Gangsta Goodies Kitchen in December 2016, Shelia’s grit has been a driving force. As a solopreneur, she handles all aspects of the enterprise including branding, marketing and creating content in her home studio. Shelia self-funds Gangsta Goodies Kitchen with the money she makes as the social services director for a small property management company that caters to senior citizens.
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“I didn’t reach out to anybody for help to get this off the ground because I didn’t think there was a resource out there for what I wanted to do,” Shelia says. “I knew that because I am not selling a widget or providing a service; my business is different than most.”
Going it alone, Shelia relied on online tutorials and webinars to figure out how to build, grow and promote her business. The KC community has also helped her.
Seeking help to grow a nontraditional business
The Porter House KC, an inner-city-based co-working community that provides entrepreneurship access and resources to underserved populations in Kansas City, Missouri, selected Shelia as one of 13 entrepreneurs to participate in the organization’s 13-week cohort in 2020.
“The cohort was extremely helpful to me as a Black woman entrepreneur,” Shelia says. “We looked at relevant case studies that really made sense to me. [Porter House KC founders] Daniel Smith and Charon Thompson were hands-on and stayed engaged even after we completed the program. I know that if there's something that I need, all I have to do is pick up the phone and call them.”
Through the mentorship program, Shelia was connected to Egghead, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s student-led advertising agency. The group put together a professional marketing plan for Gangsta Goodies Kitchen free of charge.
“I didn’t have $5,000 for a marketing plan, and I didn’t know how to put it together myself,” she says. “I’m grateful that Porter House helped me find a great resource that allowed me to get what I needed without paying a dime.”
When Shelia needed assistance with her accounting software and getting registered as a limited liability corporation, Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce offered support.
“They connected me with a young lady who got my QuickBooks setup and filed my LLC paperwork,” she says. “Heartland paid half of it and my LLC paid the rest. It was a big help for her to get everything in place for me.”
Making sacrifices and preparing for opportunities
Shelia’s vision is to establish an empire in the culinary world. She’s working on getting advertising and sponsors for her show and is developing a subscription plan for premium content. Beyond the show, she’s the author of three holiday e-cookbooks and wants to expand the Gangsta Goodies Kitchen portfolio to include cookware, tabletop decor and natural cleaning products. Shelia is also an Allrecipes Allstar, which gives her the chance to develop recipes and showcase Gangsta Goodies Kitchen to the website’s 60 million monthly visitors. She competed in the World Food Championships a couple of years ago and hopes to return one day as a judge.
“The expectation for African Americans is that you’re going to be in the kitchen slinging pots and pans, but there's so much more to the culinary industry than cooking,” she says. “I look at people like the late B. Smith, Sunny Anderson, Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart, and I see all the possibilities of what I can do.”
To achieve her goals, Shelia is happy to put in long hours and give up her free time.
“After I get off work at 5 o'clock, everything is about Gangsta Goodies,” Shelia says. “It’s my life. Instead of going to dinner with friends or traveling, I’m planning content, shooting videos and answering emails until midnight. I don’t worry about burning out because I love what I’m doing.”
With five year of business behind her, Shelia can reflect on lessons learned and the advice she would give to aspiring entrepreneurs.
“If I was starting fresh today with the knowledge that I have now, I’d put most of my energy into generating revenue.” Shelia says. “When I started, I was more about fellowship and building a fan base that would be there to support any products I came out with. Now, I realize I should have done both at the same time.”
No matter what challenges she might face, Shelia is determined to make Gangsta Goodies Kitchen a success.
“One thing that’s for certain is I'm not turning back now,” Shelia says. “ I live by the quote, ‘Dream a big dream, make it a memory of the future and expect a miracle.’ “As an entrepreneur, you must have a clear vision, do the work and be ready for opportunities when they come.”
You can follow Gangsta Goodies Kitchen on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
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