Last Updated on May 23, 2023 by BVN
Aryana Noroozi |
Known to her community as Chef Brandi, Brandi T. Biggles is the founder and owner of Chits and Biggles Inc., a mobile and global food, lifestyle and hospitality brand. As a self-starter, Biggles is no stranger to weathering the storms of entrepreneurship and constant risk-reward fluctuations of pursuing her creative passion.
The Southern California native found herself drawn to the kitchen at a young age. Later in adolescence, she discovered that recipes were a means for her to connect with and preserve her family history in a way similar to maintaining photographs and oral stories.
From purchasing her first car as a teenager from earnings selling baked goods, to opening her first storefront bakery, to working as the director of a food program in transitional housing while houseless herself, to helping launch So Cal’s first traveling Black farmers market, Biggles’ story is one of perseverance paired with prayer and conscious consumption of whole foods.
For Women’s History month, Black Voice News spent time with Biggles to gain insight into her experiences as a chef and Black business woman spanning the past two decades and what she hopes to accomplish next.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
BVN: Cooking connected you to your family and their traditions in a way similar to sharing stories and photographs. Can you speak to how you began cooking at a young age and how it connected you to your family’s history, including your mother who passed away when you were a child?
Biggles: When I was about six I would cut up vegetables, potatoes specifically, with my mother in the kitchen. I’m always surprised by the fact that I could actually cut the potatoes alone, that they trusted me to do that. About the same time, I would cook breakfast in the mornings at my grandparents house. My grandmother, God rest her soul, she would burn our food because she’d be talking on the phone.
When my mother passed, I was looking through my grandmother’s recipe box and I came across the lemon jello cake recipe, which is my mother’s favorite. I’d never made that cake and didn’t even know that was my mom’s favorite until then. I had learned to bake and now I could actually make her favorite cakes. She’d never tasted me making it, but it was hers and it was super special.
BVN: In high school you bought your first car with the earnings you made from selling baked goods. That was the beginning of your come up, gaining traction for your cooking within your community. What did those early years look like?
Biggles: The years between high school, college, marriage, children and fashion design, they were all kind of intermingled together in a decade. I started catering events and, mind you, working full time. I had a family and was in design school. I was doing graduation parties, champagne parties and school events and luncheons. After the events, I was getting phone calls, like, “Oh, your food is amazing and those cupcakes, what kind of cupcakes were those?” So, that’s kind of where it took off.
BVN: After putting in hard work for that decade, you were able to open your first storefront in Inglewood — a bakery called Jo Jo’s Dozen — named after your late mother. Can you speak to this rewarding experience?
Biggles: I was going through a separation, we [my ex-husband and I] didn’t know at the time, but we were divorcing. The bakery became my outlet, really my world. I was building it because I wanted my sons to see me keep going. I saw it being a franchise, it would be the first flagship and then I’d be able to leave several other locations for my sons and staff. I was building this store out to be a very community-driven, family-oriented place.
I set foot in this particular location because it was the city I was born in, Inglewood. The street that my mother would go to for her OB-GYN, where she would get all her care for me, was at the corner. It was home.
The bakery was open for three years. When I started, it was empty. It looked like an old fish market. Then, with my vision and the skill and vision of a contractor friend, we were able to literally build out the bakery.
BVN: You faced heartbreak with this bakery. What was that experience like?
Biggles: In the last six months of my bakery, the rent started to go up. I put all the money that I’d been gifted, loaned and had earned into making the space look like it did, and trying my best to pay off the bills and utilities for the location as well as my own home. Financially, it wouldn’t have been feasible unless something shifted.
So, I closed [the bakery] and then I was like, ‘I don’t want to cook anymore,’ because I was heartbroken for three years. From the cooking aspect, I wasn’t really sure how I wanted to approach it or if I wanted to be in business again because it just hurt too much. But so much wisdom came out of it. I used to think, ‘Man, the bakery, I lost it.’ I shifted that mindset, because it was such a success.
BVN: Besides occasional catering events, you halted your business for years. Can you talk about how a friendship changed that and got you back in the kitchen?
Biggles: I was on a Black Business tour and one of the stops was a booming brunch spot restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard. There were a lot of R&B brunches there. We met the owner, Chef Yealang. It kind of felt like an altar call like, ‘Oh, boy, like they are talking to me.’ Her story is fascinating and eerily similar to mine. I introduced myself and she asked, ‘What do you do?’ and then from there, she grabbed me and said, ‘I need you to call me. I’m so serious.’
We had a very long marathon conversation on our own. We swapped stories and heartbeats. She was talking to me about the opportunity to work with some other chefs and bring my expertise into what they do as a part of the team. It worked out.
We were building something bigger, so I shifted into [thinking], ‘Well, maybe my thing is just now going to be putting my heart into somebody else’s thing. And I can kind of hide.’
BVN: Your bakery closing wasn’t the only adversity you faced as a chef and entrepreneur. Soul Hollywood ended up closing and you lost not only your community there, but eventually also your home and became unhoused for a period of time. How did you overcome this?
Biggles: After the restaurant abruptly closed, it was really heartbreaking. The great part is I made tons of friends, core people I still communicate with. But it was pivotal, because after that, for me, things drastically shifted. Once the restaurant closed, that source of income closed and by the end of the year my home wasn’t my home anymore.
I didn’t have a place to live, so I was surviving. Now it was time for me to make sure that I was okay — emotionally, spiritually, find myself housing, of course make sure that my children are housed and safe, like let’s just get some stuff together. It was really disappointing, but that was how I came out of that.
A couple of months later, I got a phone call from my friend who said, ‘We’ve got these transitional homes that need a food program.’ I developed a food program for them. I was working as the executive chef for the food program while I was unhoused. So, I was working feeding the unhoused and I was unhoused too. It wasn’t the whimsical brunches and the cupcakes. It was none of that; it was using the food that we got.
BVN: Once again, unintentionally, you landed in the kitchen, delivering a unique experience. How did you find yourself at Prosperity Market, a Black traveling farmers market?
Biggles: The talks about having a market and what Prosperity would look like came when I’d been there almost a year, [working] at the transitional home. I had a farmer’s market on wheels on my vision board.
Prosperity said, ‘We have a farmer’s market on wheels idea that we think you could help us talk through the food side of it.’ I was working at the transitional home during the day, and then at night, we would figure out what our calls would be [for Prosperity Market]. I was not signing on as a vendor, I was just advising. Then, the conversation happened towards the launch of the market of, ‘If you ever want to be a vendor…’ and that was always how we ended the calls. I was like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ [Eventually] I said, ‘You know what, since I’m doing a cooking show already and we need content, I’ll pop up. I’ll be a vendor at the first market.’
The farmers market lit me up. I just love working with them. I love being out with the vibe of the people. It’s something that I don’t want to trade.
BVN: Just as the market launched, you experienced a major setback in your health. But in the hospital and during your months of recovery, you knew you wanted to be back at the market and cooking, which was a much different sentiment from your previous time away. Can you describe what shifted for you during this period of time and what fueled your inspiration?
Biggles: In September 2021 everything was interrupted with me being hospitalized. I was in the hospital for five days. Of course, you don’t get a warning when it’s an emergency. I’m literally laying there thinking, the market is Saturday, like I’m thinking that I got to get home. But prayer works because I’m a praying woman. So, I prayed and that’s why I’m sitting here today.
[I thought I’d be] well enough to make the next market in October. I didn’t. My body had to heal internally in ways that I didn’t realize at the time. I saw myself go through all of those really interesting and hard changes physically, emotionally. The October market was the last one of that year, so I was like, ‘I’m probably gonna be ready by January or February.’ But I was only able to go to the market as a visitor and just see the other vendors. It was becoming very clear, I was going to spend this next —what ended up being a year — in recovery.
Every market I could show up to, which was nearly every one of them, I became more like a mascot, a supporter, really figuring out what my return would and could look like.
BVN: What have you learned from taking time away from your craft?
Biggles: I came back renewed for one, with a renewed sense of myself, with a refined outlook on where I want things to go. And also an appreciation of the time that I had where I was away from it. I can look back at the time I spent not cooking or not operating a business, and [realize] going into it might have been devastating or unplanned, but I convince myself that it’s good and then I start thinking about what I would do differently if I were to get back into it.
Even though those seasons have been like soul searching, the takeaways are that you just come back better, stronger and even more experienced. At this point, I got two decades plus of experience — more than 25 years of experience. It takes a lot of courage to do that, to keep doing this, so I know that I’m courageous. I don’t even know what’s on the other side of my bravery. I don’t know, I don’t have all of those answers. But if I’m in it, I just go with it, [I know] it’ll have a good outcome.
BVN: You’ve built a family, run multiple businesses, worked across multiple industries and establishments. Many people desire to start their hustle and dive into their passions. Can you describe what this looks like in actuality for you? How do you avoid burnout?
This is my planner and this is my journal. These components are part of how I’m able to stay organized, stay balanced, stay thriving. I’ve gotten a nickname among friends, among my entrepreneurial friends, my family: she ‘just keep on going.’ I just think it speaks to something that’s in me, because I do want to stop — probably once a week. It’s reassessing and I think that for me, it’s healthy because ultimately, I don’t necessarily stop, but I may shift and go, ‘Okay, what about this doesn’t work because it’s not like it’s going to be easy.’ Some of the stuff I do is simple and some of it is intricate. And some of it requires focus, detail and experience, [in addition to] keeping myself well-nourished and hydrated enough to execute that and lead a team of people that are doing the same.
I have a son who’s a sketch artist, as well as a cadet moving on in the next phases of the Air Force. I have another son who is a high performer in high school. He makes films and creates music. Both of my sons are scholars and artists.
BVN: What’s next?
Biggles: My front-facing goal is to scale this operation, to have my products (seasonings, cookies, pancake mix) in foodservice operations and have them in people’s pantries, too. Getting these products out responsibly, either co-packed by [someone else], if I trust somebody to do it or packed by my own crew and get it distributed regionally, nationally, to airports, to stadiums. Ultimately I’d love to eventually have something in SoFi (stadium). It would be full circle for me. I mean, that’s my hometown.
A food trailer is a passion. Specifically an Airstream, totally converted into a food space. It’s silver and you hitch it to things, people have them in their yards. [With the trailer], I’m able to open up the space to teach people about whole foods, what I was doing to heal myself [and] how I weathered these storms.
I want to do that and not have it be a have to. I don’t want a silver trailer because I have to have these events and make money. I want that to be the thing that I get to do.
I’m looking for and believing in sustainability. I want to be away from the business enough to recharge and create the financial space and the mental space to really be in and live. And when I am giving myself over to these great opportunities and speaking, like my book is coming out in a few months, I want to get the chance to actually enjoy those things and not have to hitch my trailer up every night because I gotta make the rent. I’ve been through those seasons and I don’t have a desire to do that.
Learn more about Prosperity Market, Southern California’s first traveling Black farmers market that features Black farmers and vendors here. Check out Chef Brandi’s products and services here.