Putting the South in South Bend

Author: The IDEA Center

LaQuisha Jackson, founder of Soulful Kitchen

In honor of Black History Month, the IDEA Center is highlighting four black entrepreneurs from the South Bend-Elkhart community who have worked with and helped the IDEA Center and are paving the way for future underrepresented entrepreneurs.

LaQuisha Jackson embodies the essence of 'the South' in South Bend. Having roots in South Bend, her grandmother passed down the knowledge of Southern cuisine, which ultimately transformed Jackson’s catering company, Soulful Kitchen, into a food destination in the community.

“As a teenager, I was the one who could come close to making my grandmother's chicken” said Jackson. “I knew there was something there. This work is therapeutic to me and keeps my grandmother's spirit alive, while keeping to locals happy.”

But when Jackson wanted to expand to cooking wares, where to go? The IDEA Center. The IDEA Center helped Jackson design cutting boards for her catering company. “They initially gave me some for free, and then I bought more to sell. I marketed them on social media, creating videos and relying on word of mouth” says Jackson, , who also was previously a part of Notre Dame Boot Camp, which offered tips on everything from bookkeeping to branding.

“We looked at different woods and talked about the sides and the thickness, and I was given a tour of the location to see how they are created, seeing the machines and how they do what they do. The initial ones are 13 inches by 9 inches, in bamboo, a light wood, with my logo engraved in it.” Later they even helped her design charcuterie boards, which were of a darker wood.

From the experience, Jackson expanded her knowledge of shipping and handling, established an online store, and enhanced her social media presence through video content. From this from Jackson was able to deliver a winning product and having them as her primary clients.

Notre Dame has firsthand experience with Jackson's ability to as the university serves as her primary client.

“It’s terrific to have the IDEA Center right in your backyard where people from South Bend have this resource and can connect with the school,” she says. “I think it’s important to have my business in South Bend, too. There is a great saying, ‘Grow where you’ve been planted.’ I want to grow here first and then expand. These are my roots and there was a need for this cuisine.’”

Jackson knows she can apply these skills in many different areas. With a goal of appearing on the Food Network some day, selling cutting boards in videos is one more way to cut her teeth to improve her chances for the opportunity. Another area where it helps is with the nonprofit she started, Hope for the Hungry, with its popup pantries slated to pop up every month in 2024 for those in need. Jackson remembers being the oldest of 13 and the experience of coming from poverty. “This is one more way of showing we are there for each other,” she says.

Jackson, a South Bend Tribune choice for 40 under 40 in 2021, has big dreams as she has served up everything from macaroni and cheese to rosemary lemon chicken, the latter possibly her most popular dish.

“This business is breaking barriers in different ways,” she says. “Many people around here still don’t know what Southern food really is and it’s my mission to win them over.”

One delicious plate at a time.