Young Entrepreneur Turns Love of Cooking into Catering Services for Santa Monica Community
November 6, 2020 9:00 AM
by Susan Lamb
We recently interviewed a variety of Black-owned Business Owners in Santa Monica to hear their unique story and perspectives. Read on to hear about these small business owners throughout our City. This is Part 13 in a series. If you are a Santa Monica business, and you’d like to add your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
LaeJohnie Bennett goes by LJ to those who know her best. She began cooking at a very young age as the oldest of 7 children to help feed her siblings, and she loves it! She started cooking professionally in other people’s kitchens and was encouraged to start her own business. LJ’s Kitchen and Catering was the realization of that dream. Read more about LJ's story>>
Business Name: LJ’s Kitchen and Catering
Business Owner: Chef LJ
Brief History: Following encouragement from clients in other cooking venues, LJ used her $550 tax refund in May of 2018 to purchase a stationary cart to cater taco parties at private events and local sporting events. Her first catering event was a huge success in which she earned $1,800. Catering services have since been expanded to include additional Mexican food, fish fries, and soul food. She has catered events with up to 100 people.
What types of products/services do you offer? The stationary cart can be adapted to different kinds of cuisines. Chef LJ is developing specialty creams with jalapeño, cilantro and lime, smoky chipotle, and habanero crema.
Preparation is underway to sell tamales between mid-November 2020 and January 2021. They all sound delicious: green chile chicken, pork, shredded beef, jalapeño and cheese, a vegan selection of smoked chipotle and butternut squash, and a new jerk tamale with a habanero pineapple sauce.
During the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down, LJ taught herself to sew and made masks to sell. She also began creating t-shirts to which she adds customized images based on customer requests.
Why did you decide to open a business here in Santa Monica? Chef LJ moved to Santa Monica sometime in 2008 from Compton, fell in love with the City, and attended Santa Monica College. She has a 14-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. Like other parents, she is facing challenges during the school year filling the roles of teacher, parent, wage-earner, and community member.
How can Santa Monica support you and other Black owned businesses? Small business owners’ needs from the City of Santa Monica and Santa Monica business community are straightforward according to LJ: Capital, marketing support, and business training. The growth of Chef LJ’s business has been tied to personal recommendations. She says she could use help with a marketing plan. While no website is available yet, LJ posts regularly on Instagram.
Prior to the pandemic closures, Chef LJ had hoped to take advantage of the City’s street vending plan. Unfortunately, the location changed and there was no space for stationary carts. She hopes to apply for a business microgrant sometime in the future.
LJ Kitchen and Catering
Phone: (310) 736-7318
Hours of operation: Based on client bookings