Chef Vonda McPherson is a force to be reckoned with. Twenty years ago, she was the only African-American woman selling pulmonary stints to cardiologists and made a lot of money doing so. However, one day she had an epiphany that she could make more money working for herself. So she took a leap of faith and decided to open a restaurant. Why not? She loves to cook; first learning in her mother’s kitchen as a child. Saying goodbye to corporate America, she decided to give the food industry a try. That was in 2014.
Her first restaurant was a barbeque joint in Elizabeth, N.J. McPherson connected with two great women (one has since passed away and the other still works for her to this day) to develop the recipes that put her on the culinary road to success. It was also these same two women who taught McPherson about the restaurant and catering business. “I was blessed by those women. God puts people in your life for what it is you love to do,” says McPherson.
Today, McPherson owns a successful restaurant in Newark, N.J. affectionately known as Vonda’s Kitchen that serves some of the best southern cuisine in the city. She’s also the proud and popular owner of Vonda K’s Catering and Events. Using her previous corporate connections, McPherson secured several lucrative catering contacts. Both businesses attribute social media and word-of-mouth to their huge success. McPherson’s customer roster includes Nancy Cantor, the Chancellor of Rutgers University and Queen Latifah (McPherson catered the food for the repass of Rita Owens, Queen Latifah’s mother). “Our food is very clean and light,” McPherson shares. “The beautiful thing about it is I love what I do.”
It’s this love that drives McPherson to work with and educate others. Just as the two women who influenced and guided her earlier in her career, she continues this spirit of kinship to inspire the younger generations in her community. That’s why she regularly goes out into the community to teach in local schools. She also takes young people in, employs them and teaches them the business. This is a living example of what “paying it forward” looks like. McPherson is really big on two things: her culture and young people. She has a passion for working with young people (as early as nine-years-old) who want to be entrepreneurs. “They are our future,” McPherson says. “They have so many opportunities that I never even thought of.” She wants young people to be entrepreneurs so they can change their game and little girls to grow up strong and be confident in their space.
The mark of a great boss and a phenomenal community leader means two things to McPherson with the first being to bring everything (all lessons learned) back to share it with her employees so they can be empowered and second is that she must continue to learn and grow. These things, that are always wrapped in love, are undoubtingly the things that will attribute to McPherson’s legacy and longevity in the Newark community.
Vonda’s Kitchen is located at 183-185 West Kinney St. in Newark. Go to www.vondaskitchennj.com for more information about the restaurant and catering menus. You can also get social with McPherson on Facebook and Instagram.