By Shirley Hawkins
Two moms who grew up in South Los Angeles have joined forces to start Urban Comfort Foods LLC, a catering company that is winning praise for its mouth-watering and nutritious meals.
“We decided to join forces to fight against food insecurities, food deserts, and food swamps to make gourmet meals accessible to everyone,” said Jinelle Singletary, a co-partner who operates UCF with a partner Maxarine Hardman.
“Our goal is to offer better quality food to feed our community,” said Hardman. The duo is known for preparing daily meals that use fresh, nutritious ingredients to create healthy, well-balanced meals such as jerk chicken, vegan pizza, and pasta.
The food service distributor prepares meals for after-school programs, seniors living in assisted living facilities, and the formerly incarcerated.
Singletary, who grew up in Watts, and Hardman, who grew up in Compton, added that both became fast friends after working at a catering company that prepared meals for local schools.
They combined their experience in the food service industry–Hardman was a prestigious Le Cordon Bleu graduate, and Singletary had extensive administrative experience in the food industry–to launch Urban Comfort Foods LLC in 2019.
The vision to start a catering business resulted from the duo serving daily meals to students at a local school. The two quickly realized that the young people were not exactly impressed with the school’s menu. Referring to the youths who sidled down the cafeteria line daily, Jenille chuckled, “We worked with the pickiest people on earth.”
At first, both partners said that launching their fledgling catering business was not without pitfalls. “For a while, we did not know where our next check was coming from,” said Hardman. “It was tough because we were still trying to grow our business. And then COVID hit.”
The two friends got creative to keep their business afloat during the pandemic. “We offered cooking classes, an online catering service, and meal prep where customers could order food through our website urbancomfortfoods.com. We tried anything that would keep us in business,” they said.
Then Urban Comfort Foods received a lifeline. While many catering businesses were forced to close their doors during the pandemic, Urban Comfort Foods secured a (catering) contract from the federal government. “After we received the contract, we began reaching out to people in our network to let them know that we were offering food preparation and catering services,” said Hardman.
“Phone calls started trickling in,” said Singletary, adding that their bustling business now services five schools and a women’s and children’s shelter. “We serve breakfast and supper seven days a week.”
The duo also has partnered with Linc Housing which houses families, adults, the formerly incarcerated, seniors, and rehabilitated individuals, where they teach cooking classes. “When we conduct our cooking classes for families and children at Linc Housing, we get really great feedback. The residents often tell us that it is the highlight of their week,” said Hardman. “They love learning about new foods as well as kitchen
“We also touch all nationalities by cooking different foods,” Hardman added. “We don’t limit ourselves. We recently prepared a portobello and Bok Choy garlic noodle stir fry, a Jambalaya dish, some braised greens, and a Korean beef dish. It’s great to see the community expand their pallets and experience other cuisines outside their own culture.”
The duo hopes to expand their partnership with Linc to offer culinary job training, in-person classes, lectures, mentorships, and job placing assistance. Despite working seven days a week, the duo is dedicated to feeding the South Los Angeles community, and there is no end in sight. “We do everything out of love,” they said.
Urban Comfort Foods LLC can be contacted at urbancomfortfoods.com or call (323) 836-1403