The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce experienced tremendous growth in 2018 with 146 new members, who add to its diversity and strength in so many ways. One such new member, The Stiletto Chef, is already making several contributions. This month the Stiletto Chef herself, Shovann Staton-Backus, talks with us about her business ventures, the challenges of balancing career and family, and her involvement with the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Staton-Backus has been cooking all her life but didn’t turn that passion into a full-time career until a few years ago. After caring for patients as a registered nurse for 15 years, in 2014, Staton-Backus launched The Stiletto Chef to, as she said, “celebrate the crazy, fun, flavorful and sexy side of cooking and great good.” The Stiletto Chef offers a range of services, such as catering, private cooking classes, and instructional videos for her Facebook group with 15,000 followers!
Staton-Backus says that the inspiration for the name of The Stiletto Chef came from the idea of a career woman who can come home from running a successful business to create a hearty meal for her brood of kids or a romantic meal for her partner before she’s even taken off her stilettos.
Staton-Backus knows first-hand the challenges balancing career and family. She and her wife Toya, as Staton-Backus said, got to talking, “went on one date and never parted.”
Of course, there have been challenges. They are both busy entrepreneurs. They now have a blended family with teenagers, an adult child, and a new grandbaby. And Staton-Backus said there is traditionally not a lot of support for same-sex couples in the African American community. But they are committed to making it work, and she is proud that friends and family have come to view theirs as a model of a healthy relationship.
From her work as The Stiletto Chef, Staton-Backus’ business evolved to include a line of her own spices to add just the right flavor to a few of her favorite dishes. She used them in her popular instructional videos, and viewers started asking to buy them.
Staton-Backus says that since she is African American, a lot of people expect her to focus on soul food, which she does very well. But her 36 spice combinations add just the right flavor to a wide range of international cuisines, American comfort food, and, of course, light and healthy dishes.
One of her fans with a large social media following tried the spices and raved about them online, giving a huge boost to the demand. Staton-Backus started making large quantities of the spices, creating new flavors, and hired a team of 14 Spice Divas who buy the spices from her and sell directly to consumers throughout the Southeast. Now she can barely keep up with demand, sending out 2,500 packages of spices each month.
As an African American LGBT business owner, she said some might feel she has “two strikes” against her in building successful businesses. She says she doesn’t feel at all disadvantaged. However, Staton-Backus recently joined the Chamber, not only to broaden her network but to become more involved in the LGBT community and to help the Chamber with its initiatives benefitting other Nashville LGBT business owners.
In just a short time, Staton-Backus has thrown herself into the Chamber with the same enthusiasm that drives her businesses success. The Stiletto Chef once again served some of her signature dishes to the crowd at TASTE 2018. It seemed everyone was raving about her sinfully delicious Mac ‘n’ Cheese! The folks at Nashville CARES loved her food and hired her to cater their Christmas party.
Recently, she joined the Chamber’s Inclusion Committee, which was formed last year to ensure that the Chamber itself is fully inclusive. That committee is well represented by women, people of color and transgender persons. Staton-Backus brings her own experiences into the dialogue to help the committee support diversity within the Chamber and the Nashville business community.
Finally, Staton-Backus and other members of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce joined prominent business leaders and elected officials on February 11, 2019, as Mayor David Briley signed a historic executive order related to LGBT-owned businesses doing business with Metro. Mayor Briley recognized the significant contributions that LGBT-owned businesses make in Nashville and provides them with more opportunities to compete and succeed.
The Chamber asked Staton-Backus to speak at the press event, as she is beginning her certification as a LGBT Business Enterprise. She said, “Today, I am privileged and honored to be a part of history. I feel like I have beat the odds, and I can be the face and let everyone know this is OK … to love who you love and for there still to be opportunities … being I am a black business owner, a female business owner and part of the LGBT community.”