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How She’s Making It Work: Chef Tanya Holland

There are nearly 2.7 million Black women-owned businesses in the United States, making this one of the fastest-growing categories of business owners. To celebrate some of the amazing women who are contributing to this growth, we spoke with entrepreneurs from an area in Oakland area where Ayesha’s Sweet July flagship store is located. Endearingly dubbed The Block, the buzzy strip is known for its Black female-owned businesses. Here, Brown Sugar Kitchen owner Chef Tanya Holland shares how she got where she is, her best advice, and how she’s coped with the challenges of the last year.

Courtesy of Brown Sugar Kitchen
Courtesy of Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen

This celebrated chef has shown off her culinary skills on every major cooking show (including Top Chef and HBO MAX’s new Selena + Chef), has two top-selling cookbooks, and her restaurant is on every must-visit list.

“I always loved being around food—growing up my parents had a cooking club and we went out to dinner frequently.”

How did you get your start? I always loved being around food—growing up my parents had a cooking club and we went out to dinner frequently. After college, I sold ad space, but I also waited tables to supplement my income. Eventually, I got a job as an office manager at an upscale catering company. I fell in love with
the industry. Then, I found a cooking program in France. I had studied French, so I went. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to have my own restaurant.

How long did it take you? Nearly 20 years. It wasn’t for lack of trying—there was a lot of sexism and racism. I wasn’t allowed certain opportunities that my white male counterparts were. But I kept at it. Finally, in 2008, I found a space in Oakland to open Brown Sugar Kitchen.

What advice would you give to other Black businesswomen?

Keep your vision strong, and do not let people make you feel small. And, remember, there will be people who tell you no or who won’t listen—but don’t let that stop you. You have to have faith that there’s someone just around the corner who will listen to and support you.

The last year has been tough for
restaurants. Has it given you a new perspective?

I’ve realized that the only thing I’m more passionate about than cooking is providing people with hospitality and a great experience. I love the space that I have created, and it makes me sad I can’t invite people in there right now. But I’m thankful that they are still coming by to pick up food and support us.

As seen in the pages of Sweet July Magazine. 

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