EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Sheneatha Lancelin started Mama’s Soulful Soul Food just a month after she got laid off from her job due to COVID-19.
She previously worked for 14 years for a company that garnishes checks when, one day, she got the unexpected call.
She was laid off from her job and became one of the millions unemployed across the country as a consequence of the pandemic.
“Going from something that you’ve done for 14 years and all of a sudden not having a job — what am I going to do now?” Lancelin told KTSM 9 News, confessing that she was devastated when she got the news.
“I didn’t even worry about me, I worried about my kids,” she explained, saying she would lose her health insurance that helped her to afford her children’s medication, as some of them have chronic illnesses.
That morning when she found out about losing her job, she said her family immediately started lifting her up.
“My kids were like ‘mom, the one thing you don’t know how to do is to cook small, so why don’t you cook big and make it big?’” said Lancelin.
Before the pandemic started, she would cook Sunday dinners for her family. Lancelin said that she would always make too much, so she would end up inviting her neighbors and friends to join.
Back at work, she said, she would cook for her co-workers, who loved her food. They told her she should start cooking for a living.
“My dad was the one who really instilled in me that I needed to cook with my family,” she said.
Her parents were both from Louisiana. When Lancelin was little, the family lived on a German army base, and then later moved to El Paso, where she spent most of her life.
She said her parents taught her to appreciate her roots, which is why she made sure to learn all her secret family recipes.
“[Cooking] means family, because a lot of times with those foods you need help to prep. … That’s how I got close to my mom and dad — by being in the kitchen with them all the time,” Lancelin explained.
Once she decided she would start her own business, her sons and daughter started helping her plan everything out.
“We would have ‘business breakfast’ every day,” Lancelin explained. “We would talk about how much we would have to pay for this and for that.”
She had taken money from her 401(k) and used some of it to buy equipment and everything else she needed to start cooking and selling her specialties.
She said she is running her business through social media, where people can see her menu and order a day ahead.
“My plan is to do about 20 servings over, so I can give the rest to somebody homeless, because that’s what we do when we do so many leftovers here — we take them out on the street,” Lancelin said, adding that this is why she prefers people to order ahead.
Mama’s Soulful Soul Food’s menu includes mac and cheese, green collards, fried catfish, jambalaya and gumbo, which is made following her late father’s recipe.
Most of her ingredients are directly from Louisiana, where she gets the flavorful boudin and andouille sausages that are hard to find in the El Paso and surrounding areas.
“I love the fact that my parents made me get in the kitchen with them, because I did learn a lot from them,” said Lanclin. “It’s got me to where I’m at now, as far as being positive and knowing that I’m going to make it and maybe have my restaurant one day.”
She hopes her business will go well so she could open up a restaurant or a café and share her family’s heritage with all El Pasoans.