What do you get when you take a baked potato, sweet potato or zucchini spirals and add a combination of marinated meats, fresh vegetables, blended spices and top it off with a custom-crafted signature sauce? A completely healthy meal inspired by a Motown musical name plus the ingenious cooking artistry of Cynthia Hayes, owner of Zutado Soul.
Traditionally served as a side dish, Zutado Soul transforms the baked or sweet potato food accompaniment into a full or half-sized entree. Each menu option, along with all specialty menu choices, are assigned distinctive names, which are branded around the theme of making your taste buds sing.
Customers can also personalize their meals by hand-picking their preferred meats, vegetables, seasonings and signature sauces, uniquely distinguishing each dish. Vegans opt for alternatives that offer a plant-based approach by substituting the meats for zucchini spirals while still relishing the goodness of the other vegetables and sauces – all of which are a delight.
The Inspiration Behind Zutado Soul
The influences for Zutado Soul are rooted in family traditions, dating back to Hayes’ early childhood years growing up in Detroit. She recalls Sunday dinners with a house full of relatives, all of whom would gather at her grandparents’ home listening to Motown music and famous artists like Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, James Brown, Smokie Robinson and Marvin Gaye.
Reflecting on those days, Hayes fondly remembers the cherished moments spent with her grandparents. “Our house would be full, with no less than 30 people at a time with my mom in the kitchen cooking enough to feed a small army.” The kitchen, a central hub of activity, was a testament to the women in the family’s unwavering dedication and culinary prowess.
“I grew up with several amazing cooks and bakers,” says Hayes. She goes on to recall with fondness the extensive time that the women in her family would engage in preparing meals. “My grandmother would soak fruit and nuts for months to prepare her legendary fruit cake. My mom would also make amazing cakes, pies, fried chicken, and hot water cornbread, pot roasts, and seafood dishes.”
In the realm of family traditions, Hayes reflects on the importance her family placed on having a well-rounded meal. “My family emphasized eating a balanced meal complete with meat, vegetables and some sort of starch.”
Just as mealtimes in her home were a celebration of flavors and togetherness, Fridays were days when the table transformed into a feast of oceanic delights. Hayes has vivid recollections of those times when she speaks. “Every Friday was a seafood meal complete with crab legs, fish, shrimp, coleslaw, spaghetti, hushpuppies, and the best cool aid ever!”
The above formative years provided a significant foundation for Hayes in paving the way to realize her educational and professional achievements. She earned a bachelor of science in corporate finance from the University of Detroit, followed by an MBA in computer information systems, which propelled her toward a successful career in the automotive industry.
However, in 2006, her circumstances took an unexpected turn when she found herself as an unemployed single mother and embarked on a journey to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a job interview.
The interview went well, and moments before boarding the plane to return to Detroit, she received an offer of employment. Determined, Hayes could not resist and took a leap of faith. She recounts, “I countered their offer, at which time they accepted my counteroffer before I arrived back home, so I moved down to Charlotte from Detroit.”
The Origins of Zutado Soul
Fifteen years later, history repeated itself when Hayes once again found herself unemployed in 2020, evoking a sense of deja vu. After enduring 18 months of unemployment and disappointment from five signed job offers that ultimately fell through, she was forced to apply for food subsidies in December 2021.
Relying on her faith again, Hayes began praying and meditating as she reflected on her life. “I wondered if my life was changing and if I wasn’t paying attention to what change I was supposed to be taking in life.” Sensing the need for introspection, she decided to slow down and become more attuned to her inner voice, realizing that it held the key to her personal growth.
Then one day, she experienced a profound moment of clarity when she heard the voice of God resonate within her whispering. “Cindy, anything you do with your hands will be prosperous for you.”
Shortly thereafter, the idea came to her to create a stuffed potato meal, prompting her to use food stamps to purchase various ingredients at the local grocery store. As a result, this momentous event was the driving force behind the initiation of Zutado Soul, which started in her home kitchen.
Although stuffed potato restaurants are known in Detroit, they are typically prepared using deli meat or corn beef and heated in microwaves. These establishments are also considered to be fast-food entities, unlike the wholesome, healthy vegetable-packed platters that Hayes had envisioned and, ironically, had been writing about in her diary for more than two decades.
Despite not having any experience making stuffed potato meals or preparing meats with her custom marinades, Hayes thought this could be an opportunity to reinvent herself. She began doing extensive research along with talking to people, only to discover that no stuffed potato dishes resembled her vision in North Carolina or the neighboring southern region.
Determined, she took the initiative to establish a taste-testing kitchen, whereby she invited friends and even visited their homes to meticulously craft and serve her diverse creations, seeking valuable feedback from those who sampled them. Hayes was taken aback by the response. “To my utter surprise, everyone enjoyed the burst of flavors and unique combinations, which helped me realize that I had something positive.” Moreover, the surprise received by the enthusiastic response to her food led her to realize the potential value of her culinary creations.
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Understanding the impact of diet on overall well-being, Hayes sought to emphasize the importance of having healthy choices to prevent diseases as it pertained to how she prepared her meals. She also recognizes the prevalent and pressing health issues within communities of color regarding eating habits.
“I know that avoidable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease and autoimmune diseases can be controlled and avoided by diet.” Shedding light on her personal cooking and meal preparation approach, she further elaborates. “All of my meals are made with home-cooked pot roast meats that are marinated and seasoned and then prepared to create a flavor, without salt or sodium.”
Name That Potato
Drawing from her recollections of Detroit and the soulful melodies of Motown music, Hayes crafted all her custom sauces and signature dishes with a touch of nostalgia. It was also her connection to this time, along with a creative thought process, that led to her assigning names inspired by the Motown era to most of the menu items.
For example, “The Coleman” holds a special significance as it pays tribute to the former Detroit mayor Coleman Young, a family friend and a personal mentor to Hayes. Hayes reflected on the inspiration behind deriving the name for this dish. “I thought beef was a good choice because Coleman was tough.”
Delving further into her thought process by drawing parallels between the strength of Detroit’s residents and the robustness of corned beef, Hayes found it fitting to combine the two. She continues, “Like Coleman, there is something special about people from Detroit because they are also tough like corn beef, so I decided this would be a good combination to the Coleman. I also knew he was saucy and that he was a firecracker, so I added jalapeno to reflect the flavor of his personality.” By adding this spicy element, Hayes aimed to capture the essence of Young’s lively character.
Although she takes delight in preparing all her signature dishes and does not have a particular favorite, she does acknowledge that the shrimp and garlic dish has emerged as a popular preference. This is primarily due to the intriguing and delightful taste reactions it elicits among individuals who have the pleasure of experiencing the unique blend of flavors.
As Hayes explains, “The taste combination of garlic and shrimp are some of the most delightful surprises I’ve seen people have because who would have thought to put meat or truffle on a sweet potato.”
Getting the Business Off and Running
Recognizing the importance of establishing a name, brand and logo for her restaurant venture, Hayes sought to adopt a provocative and reflective approach. As she intended to infuse a human touch into the culinary experience, she found inspiration once again in the harmonious blend of homemade meals, music, and joyful recollections of her childhood.
During a particularly memorable taste test, her cousin remarked, “It makes your taste buds want to sing,” which sparked the idea for the company name. Hayes was inspired to merge the names zucchini, potato, and soul to form the business name “Zutado Soul,” encapsulating the essence of her culinary vision and evoking a sense of soulful delight.
She collaborated with an animator to design the logo that would include the animated five-note beat measures featuring tambourines to capture the essence of Zutado Soul while infusing diverse Motown sounds.
Despite ongoing COVID restrictions and limited financial resources, Zutado Soul took its first steps as a ghost kitchen in February 2022. The primary focus was on promptly fulfilling online orders and ensuring timely deliveries to customers.
As word of mouth spread, the business experienced rapid growth, receiving numerous requests for extensive catering orders. To meet these demands, Hayes frequently resorted to renting commercial kitchen space as an accommodating solution.
Each Friday, she introduces a captivating concept: potato pizzas prepared on-site when she travels to alternative locations. This innovative idea materialized and came to fruition unexpectedly, although Hayes reveals that she was initially hesitant about making pizzas. “I didn’t want to make pizza because I had not made any before. I would buy pizzas from the store and top them with my sauces and meats, just to try so I didn’t throw food away.”
However, the question posed by a chef friend about leftover potatoes lingered in her mind. Reflecting on this, Hayes began to research creating a potato pizza crust. Putting her culinary skills to the test, she added her own twists and turns in the kitchen, ultimately developing a gluten-free crust using chickpea flour and potatoes. This revelation not only provided a gluten-free option but also highlighted the fact that her ingredients doubled as pizza toppings.
At the same time, Hayes acknowledges that the most demanding aspect of her entrepreneurial journey lies in reconciling rapid growth with the constraints of limited resources and capital. Recognizing the imperative of propelling the company forward, Hayes decided to enhance her expertise in the food management industry.
This led her to acquire a food and restaurant operator’s license, a crucial step in advancing the business. In a noteworthy development, despite operating primarily as a ghost kitchen, Zutado Soul also obtained its license as a fully-owned restaurant in April 2023. However, the absence of a physical brick-and-mortar establishment or a dedicated food truck for preparing pizza and potato dishes on-site continues to pose ongoing challenges.
Challenged But Still Determined
Hayes’ commitment to addressing these challenges demonstrated her proactive approach to professional development. This includes enrolling in online food management courses and seeking personalized coaching and mentoring from the esteemed Proof Resource Center, an educational leader catering to entrepreneurs in the food and beverage sectors.
The above consulting services are meticulously designed to assist Hayes in implementing strategic growth initiatives for Zutado Soul, including developing an impactful product marketing label. A crucial step towards expansion involves bottling her signature sauces under the distinguished “Zutado Soul” label with the ambitious goal of distributing them nationwide throughout airport and retail outlets.
Looking ahead, Hayes also envisions the establishment of Zutado Soul restaurants in five cities – Charlotte, Raleigh, Concord, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, as well as her cherished hometown, Detroit, Michigan. Additionally, she aspires to incorporate the Zutado Soul restaurants with community kitchen establishments, which will be dedicated to new entrepreneurs and fostering youth development within the communities.
This ambitious vision drives her unwavering determination to realize her dreams and leave an indelible mark on the culinary landscape and within respective communities. As Hayes says, “No matter what things look like, take center stage of your own life, stand firm and believe in yourself.”
Zutado Soul Food delivers on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. and on Sunday between 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. EST. They are closed on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
For information regarding catering jobs, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 980-423-1717. For more restaurant and food highlights, visit https://zutadosoul.com and follow the company on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates, specials and more.