Over an indulgent cheese board at Flight 102 Wine and Bar in Bourbonnais, the Daily Journal sat down with the mastermind behind Shonda’z N Daughterz Catering, LaShonda Dowdy, 47, and her daughter-in-law, Brittney Nathaniel, 25, both of Kankakee, to discuss her catering business, the difference between a chef and a cook and the best dish she’s ever had.
LaShonda started family-run and owned Shonda’z N Daughterz Catering in 2014 from her home in Kankakee, and they started catering indoor and outdoor events in 2016.
“I love to cook,” Dowdy said. “I cook all the time for my family and friends. I decided to do what I love and start a business out of it.”
LaShonda received her GED from Kankakee Community College in 2007 and graduated with an Associate of Arts, majoring in psychology in 2009. She graduated from Governors State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2011.
She’s the first person in her family to receive a college degree. With these degrees, Dowdy couldn’t see herself doing anything other than cooking.
“I had my kids young, so I started cooking around 15 or 16 years old,” she said. “Growing up with all sisters, I’ve always cooked. But once I started having my own children, I started experimenting with recipes and learning how to make things from scratch.”
Dowdy first learned to make scratch-made biscuits. Now, she doesn’t even use a recipe.
“I’ve just been making them for so long,” she said.
Dowdy grew up watching her mom and dad in the kitchen, and now she runs her business with her daughter, Jessica Hayes; her daughter-in-law, Brittney Nathaniel; her son, Chris Anderson; her nephew, Quentin Childs; and her grandson, Jaheim Hayes.
“We’ve been doing pretty good,” Dowdy said. “We started off catering birthday parties, and that went really well. It just came from word-of-mouth.”
“So many people like her,” Nathaniel said.
They both attest to Facebook helping with their popularity.
“So many people see our posts, and they’ll comment asking for our location,” Nathaniel said.
It’s not unusual for friends and family to show up at LaShonda’s home, looking for a delicious, home-cooked meal, just based off of pictures and videos of her food seen on Facebook.
LaShonda is trying to find a building or a food truck in order to take her family-run catering business to the next level.
“We are Kankakee-based, but we need a home,” Nathaniel said.
By next year, LaShonda would like to see that dream turned into reality, as well as seeing her chicken and pork seasonings sold in stores.
This weekend, you can catch Shonda’z N Daughterz Catering at the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival, serving up new creations such as Philly Cheesesteak and chicken burrito egg rolls, stuffed burgers and more. They’ll make their return to the Kankakee Farmers’ Market on July 6.
Dowdy doesn’t just specialize in one type of cuisine — she covers it all.
“I’m a picky eater,” said Nathaniel, who said she probably eats everything she makes.
“I’m always watching the Food Network to try and get new ideas,” Dowdy said.
At the Kankakee Farmers’ Market, LaShonda humbly boasts breakfast options such as omelets (however you want them), and breakfast bowls with grits, potatoes and eggs, with sausage or bacon. They back their cooking up, with long lines outside of their catering tent.
“We’re always busy,” Dowdy said. “From the time we set up, to the time we shut down. And everyone’s so patient. We have some really good customers.”
“We’re so busy that I can’t leave my register to go try the other food,” Nathaniel jokes, in all seriousness.
“We’re big on presentation and making people hungry just by the looks and smell of the food,” Dowdy said. “As much as we cook, we don’t get to eat.”
INS AND OUTs OF COOKING
Although Dowdy never went to a culinary school, she still knows most of the technical ins and outs of cooking, but she considers herself to be a cook.
“A home cook,” said Dowdy. “I learned from my mom and my dad. I didn’t learn from a school. My dad would boil pig feet and then deep fry them. I never heard of anyone else doing that, and they were delicious.”
“Every time I’ve worked at a restaurant, I’ve taken the skills that I’ve learned and applied them to my business,” Dowdy said. “My knife skills are awesome now.”
“Mine aren’t,” Nathaniel said, jokingly.
Nathaniel started cooking with the catering business in October 2016.
“She makes me confident when it comes to cooking,” Nathaniel said.
Nathaniel’s go-to dish she’s confident in fixing is spaghetti.
Previously, Dowdy worked at Joliet Victory Center, and she also worked at a restaurant in Las Vegas. There, she not only learned cooking skills, but she also learned the day-to-day business ends of the restaurant.
For Dowdy, there are two things that make a dish great — flavor and love.
“When you’re cooking, you really have to enjoy it, and I really do,” she said. “I love cooking, and to me, that shows in the flavor of the food.”
When it comes to the best dish she’s ever eaten, LaShonda’s isn’t too close to home.
“The tuna tare-tare, with guacamole on top at Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun, in Cancun, Mexico,” Dowdy said. “I found that recipe, and now I make it at home all the time.
“I like taking foods that people don’t normally eat and changing their mind about it,” Dowdy said.
What sets her food apart from the rest?
“The flavor,” she said. “For me, I use really good ingredients. I don’t like using generic stuff. I like using fresh ingredients, so we’re cutting up the onions and the bell peppers. I think that makes a huge difference in cooking because everything is fresh. If you have an attitude, you can’t come into my kitchen with that energy. Everything is made with love.”
To contact LaShonda for catering, call 815-216-7478, go to shondaz-n-daughterz.com, or check them out on Facebook
The website has a full menu of what Shonda’z N Daughterz has to offer.