By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Two moms have joined forces to start a catering company that is winning praise for its nutritious meals.
“We decided to join forces to fight against food insecurities, food deserts and food swamps with a goal to make gourmet meals accessible to everyone,” said Jinelle Singletary, a co-partner who operates Urban Comfort Foods with her partner Maxarine Hardman.
“Our goal is to offer better quality food to feed our community,” Hardman added.
The duo is known for preparing daily meals that use fresh, nutritious ingredients to create well-balanced meals such as jerk chicken, vegan pizza and pasta.
They also prepare 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, became 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 graduate of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and Singletary had extensive administrative experience in the food industry — to launch Urban Comfort Foods in 2019.
The vision to start a catering business occured as a result of 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 daily came through the cafeteria line, Jenille said, “We worked with the pickiest people on Earth.”
At first, the 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,” Hardman said. “It was tough because we were still trying to grow our business and then COVID hit.”
To keep their business afloat during the pandemic, the two friends got creative.
“We offered cooking classes and an online catering service as well as meal prep where customers could order food through our website urbancomfortfoods.com,” they said. “We tried anything that would keep us in business.”
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 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,” Hardman said.
“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,” Hardman said. “The residents often tell us that it is the highlight of their week. They love learning about new foods as well as kitchen safety.
“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 of their own culture.”
The duo hopes to expand their partnership with Linc to offer culinary job training, in-person classes, lectures, mentorships and job placement 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 can be contacted at urbancomfortfoods.com or by calling (323) 836-1403.