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Local catering business owner shares story of success with help from community groups

Local catering business owner shares story of success with help from community groups
Local catering business owner shares story of success with help from community groups 04:03

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Phat Girlz A Cookin is a catering business name that's impossible to forget, but the journey behind the business is really where it's at. 

Don't get in Cheyanne Bronzell's way. She's in the kitchen on a mission. Her jalapeno honey cornbread doesn't mix itself.

She's prepping for two big catering events, something 7-year-old Cheyanne wouldn't believe. 

"This is my love, this is my dream, this is my goals, everything I've wanted to do has always been around food," she said. 

But it didn't come easy. And it didn't happen fast.

Cheyanne really struggled to find her place.

"Because of the years that I spent in the penitentiary, so I guess it was more of me feeling not out of place," she said. 

Even after four years in prison, and opening her own business, she says she considered quitting more than 50 times.

"I kind of thought that because I have a record and people know that when I go inside these rooms, they're gonna be looking at me funny -- a lot of big people, news people, councilmen, mayor -- and these are the rooms I have been invited into but once I get into those rooms, I still didn't feel comfortable," she said. 

But then she met someone who turned it all around for her. 

"I had been following her for years and we just happened to meet one day and the crazy thing is she told me she had had my food," Cheyanne said. 

"Every year I went to her booth and she had great food and I loved her name Phat Girlz A Cookin,' said Dr. Kimberly Ellis, the Buccini/Pollin Group's director of community, arts and culture. 

Ellis works with the Lower Hill redevelopment, and she got Cheyanne in the room, literally.

"So the opportunity that the Buccini/Pollin Group gave her was to cater a lunch for the men and women at PJ Dick who were in a business meeting at the Boys and Girls Club and she did a fantastic job and the funny thing is that they loved everything that she offered, including her honey cornbread but she was most proud of having people from a different culture eating her award-winning greens with vinegar and hot sauce. That was hysterical and they're still talking bout it," Ellis said. 

More importantly, that day made Cheyanne realize there was no more hiding behind her past.

 "I found that I was invited into those rooms, number one, and I belong in them," she said. 

So she didn't quit and she's found a home inside a former Allegheny Health Network hospital now used as an incubator for small business owners. 

"Finding a commercial kitchen was a tough thing to do or keeping a commercial kitchen or being able to pay for a commercial kitchen -- it has been a challenge across the board so this is a gift from Catapult and indirectly a gift from all of us," Ellis said. 

And for Cheyanne, it feels like family. So when it comes to business, she's turning up the heat. 

"I say this kitchen is like my flex, this is my space, I love it, I literally feel like I was meant to be in this kitchen," she said. 

She said her specialty is Italian food. She started perfecting her homemade red sauce at the age of 11.

And she's also becoming known as Pittsburgh's "green queen" because she reportedly makes the best greens.

Cheyanne believes food gets people to talk, gets people to network and work through things. She says food is the binder in our communities.

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