President, Booker’s Soul Food Starters
HOMETOWN: Lives in Macedonia, OH; from Spartanburg, SC
FAMILY: Crystal Booker, wife and business partner
AOS Culinary Arts, BS Food Service Management, MS Managerial Technology
Created The Booker’s Soul Food Education Fund
Member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
95% of success is the ability to get along with people.
FAMILY LIFE AND GROWING UP
Claude Booker, M.S., grew up in rural Spartanburg, South Carolina, eating home-cooked meals made with vegetables from his grandmother’s four-acre garden, livestock raised on a neighbor’s farm, or quails and other animals from his hunting expeditions.
Proudly country to the core and classically trained, Booker attained his Associate of Science degree in Culinary Arts, Bachelor of Science in Food Service Management, and Master of Science in Managerial Technology.
Educational Equity Matters: Throughout high school, Booker found himself in remedial classes without access to the same opportunities as his colleagues.
This educational track limited his ability to prove his educational prowess and excel. But all of that changed when Booker found a level playing field in college.
“I finally had the same books as everybody else.” At Johnson & Wales College, Booker delighted in discovering that he studied from and had access to the same textbooks as every other student. He excelled in his classes and achieved the highest nationwide GPA amongst his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers. While at Johnson & Wales University, Booker’s remarkable intellect and talent earned him the opportunity to become one of the university’s first Black teaching assistants. Booker explains, “When given access and provided with equal opportunity, we can all excel.”
Thinking back to your early years, was there a mentor or successful entrepreneur that had a significant impact on your decision to start your own business? If so, who and why? At the age of 26, I met Reggie Sylvain a fraternity brother who inspired me to take the chance on being my own boss. I have never looked back. Together we opened a company called Cultural Foods. We ran it in Atlanta for several years before we eventually had to close it.
What professional or business accomplishment are you most humbled by and why? Omega Psi Phi Business Person of the Year in 2019 because it was totally unexpected and because it always feels good to be recognized by my brothers.
What is the toughest decision you’ve made professionally or as a business owner? Walking away from corporate America to start Simply Southern Sides because the recession was just starting in 2008, which made things very challenging.
The essentials to creating a harmonious work environment at your business are…
Show respect and be accountable for what you do.
What have you come to learn about success as a minority business owner? Realize that there are more pains and stumbles than wins, learn from those but don’t dwell on them and celebrate the wins and successes.
What have you come to learn about balancing a business and lifestyle? You never will get any of your time back, so don’t forget to enjoy family, church and friends. You don’t want to have regrets.
How has Covid-19 affected your business? (negatively and/or positively)
Negatively: 2020 was devastating for our firm and Simply Southern Sides food service business, as retailers closed down hot bars and salad bars due to COVID-19. We had no choice but to reinvent ourselves. My new focus went all in on our Black community.
What did you do to address those issues?
Pivoted and created a product for home cooks: Booker’s Soul Food Starters.
What part of your business brings you the most joy?
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a business owner?
How do you apply this lesson to the work you do? My work ethic – outworking everyone in the office – first to arrive and the last to leave. I don’t have to say anything; they see how I lead and I believe others value that, and want to do their part to the best of their abilities.
My ideal vacation is… Jamaica.
My favorite hobby...Golf.