A chef, former nurse and a mother to many, Detroiter Harriette Brown has been cooking nutritious food for hungry people in the area for many years.
It’s all part of what her business does. Brown — who is known as Chef Bee or Mama Bae — and her niece, Ebony Bell, are Sisters on a Roll, a mobile cafe that does pop-ups, catering, meal prep, community outreach and more. The more profit they can make from the paid gigs, the more they can help their hungry neighbors.
“I come from outreach ministry, so charging for food was weird to me and it took a minute for me to ascertain my worth,” said Brown, who works out of a commissary kitchen in Detroit. “But people in the suburbs and stuff, they can afford the elite veganism that I offer. So we sell it to them, and we feed the people in the city of Detroit, or wherever. We don’t discriminate. If we’re in Birmingham and (there’s) homeless (people), or they’re hungry, we feed them.”
Brown says she’s been feeding the needy near the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit for about six years with groups like the Mutual Aid community, Food Not Class, Food Not Bombs and others. She gets resources from Kitchen Help to prepare healthy meals for those who line up each Wednesday.
Now, a friend has launched a GoFundMe page for Brown so she can get her food trailer and food truck up and running to further her mission.
“It would mean the world to me because we could be sustainable,” she said, adding that one of her goals is to create jobs. “I would look to the people that are transitioning back into the workforce … people that people generally tend to overlook. Everyone deserves a second chance.”
She’s seeking $16,000 to round out what she needs for the projects. She already secured a loan through Kiva, a nonprofit platform that helps unlock capital to those who need it. The chef was hoping get the rest through loans and grants. An SBA grant from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was awarded, but not dispersed due to pending lawsuits.
“I’m not trying to get rich. I just want to feed people,” she said. “Yes, we sell food, but each plate we serve has a purpose … it’s to give back to somebody who can’t afford to pay.”
Brown said she became serious about veganism about seven years ago when she had a major health scare that left her in the hospital for a month and forced her to change her diet. She said as a chef she promotes a plant-based diet and wants to make veganism accessible for everyone, but she won’t “food shame” anyone.
“I’m primarily vegan because I choose to be,” she said. “It made me better. I used to be 417 pounds and I changed my life with a fork.”
Sisters on a Roll specializes in made-from-scratch soups and stews, salads with house-made dressings and vegan condiments, sauces and jams. They also serve vegan deli “meats” and meat alternatives similar to wings, steak bites, bacon and more.
“Every day I wake up blessed because I’m living my dream out loud,” said Brown. “I’m doing what they told me I can’t do.”