H&R Block Profiles in Black Entrepreneurship: Chef Creates Culinary Opportunities
Photos by Kenney Ellison
Shanita McAfee-Bryant, has been cooking for her whole life—she grew up watching the early years of the Food Network and the original Iron Chef, when it was still subtitled from Japanese.
“I can track [my time cooking] with my oldest son’s age,” says McAfee-Bryant. “Every year he gets a little older, and I get a little more seasoned.”
As a high school student, she finished her classes a semester early and her parents told her she couldn’t just sit at home. So, McAfee-Bryant enrolled in college-level classes and decided to go to culinary school.
Although she spent a short time working in financial services, McAfee-Bryant says she wasn’t built for a 9-to-5 job. But, she watched her father’s journey as a business owner. “He was an entrepreneur and I’ve always grown up watching him build and create…chart his own path.”
“Before it was in vogue, I was doing what they call modern southern food.”
She started in catering and meal-prepping and later opened a small brick-and-mortar restaurant Magnolia’s and started a food truck. “Before it was in vogue, I was doing what they call modern southern food,” says McAfee-Bryant.
Today, McAfee-Bryant no longer has the restaurant, but she caters private events and has expanded to include new, virtual experiences and online cooking classes to her business.
“I’m a little older now and this business is a beast, and it wreaks havoc on your body. But, I still have a passion and I love food,” says McAfee-Bryant of her journey.
In addition to her business, she is also the founder and executive director of The Prospect KC, a nonprofit focused on culinary education and workforce development. She says, “if people get that little extra training they can unleash this untapped potential within themselves.”
After seeing a similar program in place from peers in Seattle, she decided to bring the idea to Kansas City. The city has tried building culinary programs before but they haven’t stuck. McAfee-Bryant says that’s because they didn’t address the barriers people face. The Prospect aims to level the playing field by improving nutritional literacy, uplifting aspiring chefs and entrepreneurs of color, and offering additional community resources.
As a mother, who had an infant while starting her business, McAfee-Bryant knows just how inhospitable the restaurant industry can be for mothers. She says, “Entrepreneurship was the happy marriage between me being a professional and me being a parent.” Being an entrepreneur has allowed her to balance motherhood with her passion for food, and introduce her children to the same passion.
“I know numbers, but I don’t love numbers. I love food.”
McAfee-Bryant has long been involved with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, participating in programs, volunteering with her children, and most recently developing a partnership with her nonprofit during the pandemic to deliver food boxes to neighbors in need. McAfee-Bryant is also a participant in the first cohort of H&R Block and ULKC’s program providing free coaching and resources to Black-owned businesses.
McAfee-Bryant sees the issues the program is helping to solve around her, “Most Black restaurants are started with family money…but other restaurants start with, they go to the bank and they get a $5 million dollar loan, and they’ve got $20,000 in reserve. And, we don’t have that. It’s not that we don’t want that. It’s that we don’t have the same level of access.”
H&R Block and ULKC’s program is addressing those barriers Black business owners face by connecting them to the resources and help they need to give them space to focus on their passion.
“I know numbers, but I don’t love numbers. I love food,” says McAfee-Bryant.
With McAfee-Bryant’s recent pivot to virtual offerings, her Block Advisors small business certified tax professional is working with her to separate her business from her personal taxes and finances. That separation will help her simplify tracking business expenses and offer protection from potential issues and financial consequences.
McAfee-Bryant recognizes the intention H&R Block and ULKC’s program was created with to ultimately support strong communities everywhere by uplifting micro-businesses. “What we do is we employ people in the community, we spend our money with businesses in the community. Promoting entrepreneurship and building your small businesses then helps build the community.”