At the top of 2011, I watched my friends step out on faith to invest in their many talents. In place of traditional careers they chose to follow their hearts. Writing, dancing, acting, sewing, styling, entrepreneurship.

Paint on Walls is their story.

She's Got Somethin' Cookin'


What’s it really like to truly live by your craft? To lien landlords, loans and life in LA against inconsistent income, and above all else, the chance to do what you love.
“B****, you need your own company!” 
Fond words from Shanita Castle’s former employer, although Castle remembers the seemingly shocking experience with a smile. “I’m just meant to lead,” she says. Spending a few years shadowing that same employer, a celebrity Chef based in Atlanta, Castle quickly established the foundation for Castle’s Catering – southern foods infused with bold Creole flavors – that would launch in Los Angeles, CA – 3,000 miles away from where her journey began.

December 2010, Shanita Castle marched into her boss’s office, broke into tears and said she had to leave. With no gigs lined up and no plan for how she’d make rent, she obeyed the faint voice inside her head – now a piercing call – telling her to move, now.

“I just did it. I’m clearly emotional,” Castle says, tearing up during our first meeting as she remembers hearing, “Just do it. Just do it. Just do it.” She had no savings, pending rent payments and a car note, yet she describes a feeling of relief that accompanied her decision. Relief quickly confronted by reality. She remembers thinking, “Now that I’ve put myself in this position…I’m in the corner, I’ve got to come out fighting.”

Selling Creole and southern food to L.A.’s trendily health conscious audience seems somewhat impossible. Yet, she’s grafted her southern style to support her clients’ dietary needs, cooking everything from vegan to veal. Recalling her transition to the west coast, the Louisiana native notes, “L.A.’s diversity has taught me that I can cook southern food and not only cater to black audiences. I don’t know that I would have learned that in Atlanta.” 

More from Shanita Castle

9 months in and the rent’s paid. Despite a yo-yoing catering schedule, she hasn’t starved. Instead Castle’s Catering has amassed an envious list of corporate clients from Cedar Sinai Hospital to CBS. She credits her faith, confidence and talent with her success thus far, but it’s obvious this was no easy step. 

Castle can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t working, for someone. Sixteen previous jobs to be exact: Victoria’s Secret, RadioShack, 24 Hour Fitness, Jenny Craig. She didn’t start cooking professionally until 2009 - three years after graduating from Spelman College with a degree in biology.

“These jobs made me realize…I don’t want another job.”
The Big Break

December 2009, catering was just a side hustle until a chance meeting while working at 24 Hour Fitness led Castle to her very first gig, catering a book release party at the home of rapper Lil Jon. “The garage is full of Crunk Juice,” Castle revisits the moment she realized exactly where she was. A small party, hosted by Nicole Smith – Lil Jon’s wife – her first gig was done pro-bono, on a $50 budget, “That’s all I could afford,” she says, “I just wanted to be there.”

The menu: stuffed mushrooms, dumplings, vegan tofu kebabs.

Many of Castle’s gigs have been just that serendipitous. She describes meeting people on Sunday and catering their birthday parties the following week. “My biggest clients are honestly strangers who just want me to be family,” she laughs, “Just tell people what you’re doing and be able to back it up.” It seems so simple.

November 2010, business was non-existent. After a whole month without cooking, Castle was unhappy and realized exactly what was missing. So she quit her job and made the jump. Negotiated days off to cater during the transition from her old job to her new role, but by December 5, her phone hadn’t stopped ringing. One month she had no gigs and the next, her calendar was full.

Castle’s final boss still supports her. “She hires me every other week to do catering,” Castle says, appearing grateful and blessed, “I was an executive assistant, but she let me teach cooking classes once a week.” It’s that kind of support that continues to sustain Castle Catering.

At this moment, however, America – indeed the world – is in a recession. Wouldn’t most people consider catering a luxury? According to a 2009-2010 SpendingPulse study printed in Forbes Magazine, Americans spend 34.6% of their discretionary income on dining out, with Angelenos as one of the top spending cities in the nation. That’s only a 0.7% decline from 2008, despite the recession[1]. In times of hardship, perhaps people really do find comfort in food – a welcome sign for budding caterers aiming to support a happy and healthy community.

“You can do just about anything to make money. Do what makes you happy.” 
I ask how she figured out cooking would make her happy. “It found me. I didn’t come here [to LA] for that. When it’s meant for you, it will come to you. I’m good at it. I like it. Ok!” Castle is resolute in her decision and keenly aware of how things came to be.

There’s a very no-nonsense attitude towards following your heart during our interview. Almost as if to say, once you’ve found it, there’s no sense wasting your time on anything else. Her confidence is reminiscent of a wise old woman, stern and motherly yet youthfully blunt and open.

A Dream Deferred

Castle’s mom passed away at a very young age, only 30 years old. Once Castle began catering her aunt shared a little known fact. Castle’s mother had always wanted to own a catering company. Castle sometimes thinks, “It’s interesting how I’m living her dream, she was an engineer, but that’s not what she wanted to do.”

It’s moments like these that encourage and motivate. Shanita’s story reminds me why I decided to write and share experiences like hers. When you’re headed down a traditional path, and suddenly decide to turn left, it’s scary. You must come to terms with all possible outcomes and potential experiences. However, you also find new ways to challenge yourself and usually discover a wealth of hidden resources.

She preaches the value of knowing your worth, saying that there comes a time when you must place a value on your time, effort and expertise. Learning to say “No” to the wrong opportunities and “Absolutely yes!” to the right ones is a big part of that.

When it comes to running a business, she’s still learning the rules of engagement, how to set prices, market her business and network, network, network. Thus far, word of mouth has been Castle’s Catering’s greatest marketing tool, 

“I will tell you people love food.”

[1] http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/12/13/forbes-how-americans-spend-their-money/


  1. This Story is so inspiring and encouraging.

  2. I love your "finding your passion" section! I'm takin' notes!

  3. You are inspiring me, my young Jedi! good stuff

  4. MrCEO...i know you throw down in the kitchen. I've seen pictures. You got plans for al that talent?? Even if you just sell plates on Sunday after church, I'd be in line.

  5. Thanks Aicha! I'm working on gathering some new resources for everyone. Feel free to follow me on twitter for quick updates as well @Melony_Lashay