“They gave me three months. I’m telling you, people just gave me three months before I even put the sign on the door.” Nakesha said this as she remembered how people predicted that she would fail, in roughly three months, as she entered the restaurant business. In just a few days, on May 4th, she will celebrate a year in her restaurant ‘Royalty Eats’ on Cherry Avenue, in the Fifeville community in Charlottesville, Virginia. Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, Nakesha is as vibrant as ever and sees her business as a service to the community. As her business has expanded exponentially over the course of a year, she powerfully submits with shaking seriousness in her voice that, “I want to take people with me.”
When asked how she got into the cooking game, Nakesha said that she has always cooked and prepared food since she was a child. We also reminisced a little about how she had a knack for business, even when she was young, selling ice cream cones in the neighborhood. But even though she was steeped in the deep culture and tradition of Soul Food cooking and had excellent business instincts, opening a restaurant was not really in her plans. In fact, it is really a story of a tragedy turned into triumph.
““I’m not in competition with anyone. I am only in competition with myself. I just want to be my best self.””
— Nakesha White
Several years ago, back in 2016, Nakesha and her husband, George, decided to relocate to Jonesboro, Georgia for a job opportunity that she had landed. Kesha was secure in her career as a nursing assistant in the medical field and was thriving and successful. The relocation was just something the family needed at the time Nakesha indicated, but she never anticipated what would come next.
While working to settle in and build a life in Georgia, she received a call one night that her mother had been in a horrific accident back here in Virginia. Her mother’s injuries were so significant that she was left paralyzed.
Immediately, Nakesha snapped into caregiver mode and made the trip back to Virginia to help to stabilize her mother after the accident. At that time, she had one foot in Georgia and the other foot in Virginia. Inevitably, she made the decision to move her mother to Georgia with her and her immediate family. Kesha said, “I moved her to Georgia… with us” emphasizing the us. Nakesha the natural nurturer that she is, said after her mother settled in, “I began to use my nursing skills solely to support my mother and make sure that she was comfortable and had what she needed.”
Grand Opening of the Royalty Eats, Event Center (September 2019)
This was when things began to take shape. When serving as the primary care-taker for her mother, Kesha noticed that her mother began to lose weight. “I started to think of ways to help her get her weight up, so I started cooking not just to cook. I wanted the food I cooked to be a fine-dining experience for my mother.” Kesha went on to talk about how she began to post what she was cooking and baking on social media, namely on Facebook. “What started just as a way to support my mother and to help her to get her strength back became very popular on social media.” People from home in Charlottesville began placing orders, and when Nakesha was in-town, she would fill those orders for folks back home.
At that time, she also began catering events in Georgia, and people began to ask her why she didn’t have her own restaurant. “To be honest, I wasn’t ready,” she said. She doubled down, “I just wasn’t disciplined enough to begin a business. I just wasn’t.” She admittedly had a keen awareness about where she was as a businesswoman and knew that what she needed would require more seasoning.
Royalty Event Center opening with BCBA Elite Empire Dance Team (September 2019)
Now fast forward to early 2018, when Nakesha and her family decided that their life in Georgia was coming to a close. Her and her husband George moved the family back to the Charlottesville area with one goal in mind, to open a restaurant. With her success with social media engagement, she was able to land a catering contract with a local private school. She had developed a reputation in the community for having quality food, immaculate presentation, and exceptional service. She had also been seen as a community driven person, and you would find her serving fish dinners at the BCBA basketball league games on Sunday afternoons at Tonsler park in the summer.
Nakesha had a great service and the community was behind her, but she still didn’t feel like she was ready. She enrolled in the City of Charlottesville’s Growing Opportunities, or GO Cook Culinary Arts Bootcamp with Chef Antwon Brinson. “I learned so much from Antwon,” Kesha said affectionately. She went on to speak of a time in the class when Antwon asked the class about each individual’s future goals.
“I told him that I was going to open a restaurant, and he was like, ‘Cool that’s a great goal.’” She went on to say, “I was like nah, I’m opening a restaurant next month!” Nakesha is laughing hysterically now. “He was like, ‘What you mea—n, next month? When did you have time to put this all together?’” It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in her ability to get it done, it was just that, it usually takes people longer to get disciplined enough and ready to take the step of opening a restaurant. Nakesha was ready.
“They gave me three months. I’m telling you people just gave me three months before I even put the sign on the door. They gave me three months.”
Since then, Nakesha has opened up more businesses to accompany her restaurant, Royalty Eats. They include an event center, a catering company, a community kitchen, and a coffee shop. “I want to provide a high-quality service without causing people to break the bank.” She provides a space for other aspiring food service professionals to have, hard to find, cooking-time in a commercial kitchen. Her event center is designed to give people an inexpensive place to hold small to medium-sized gatherings.
BCBA Founder, Damien Banks and Nakesha at the Event Center Opening (September 2019)
We took some time to reminisce about life as children growing up in Charlottesville. She reached deep down and said exasperatingly, “Sarad, I got it out the mud. You gotta go get it. I try not to ever let the sun beat me up.” She gave a testament to her grind and the hard work it takes to accomplish so much, seemingly—so fast. “I couldn’t have done it without my mom. She wouldn’t let me give up on my dreams. I do miss the nursing field, but this is my calling. This is where I am supposed to be.”
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Royalty Eats is providing curbside pickup service. Call or stop by and place your order today at: (434) 305-3879.
Written by Sarad Davenport
Photos by Locs Images