Juanita’s Kitchen founder shows spirit

Juanita’s Kitchen founder shows spirit

Ernisha Randolph was 8 years old when the entrepreneurial bug bit. She wanted money from her father for a toy but he wouldn’t budget. Randolph started making candy and selling it. It became a $500-per-week gig until she turned 18 years old. Then it was on to the not-for-profit Young Ladies of Integrity. Through this organization, she mentored young women, culminating the program each summer with a gala.

Today, Randolph is owner of a start-up incubator through which she assists 10 businesses with everything from physical facilities to entering pitch competitions until they grow to have revenues north of $250,000. Businesses in the incubator range from a kitchen to an organic lemonade business started by a 16-year-old. Randolph said the lemonade business won the National Black Chamber of Commerce’s pitch competition.

Randolph is best known as the CEO of Juanita’s Kitchen, a full-service catering company with six government contracts and numerous corporate clients. Randolph has been running Juanita’s Kitchen for eight years and she is now ready to expand. Randolph on Feb. 10 launched Sweet Butter, a pop-up restaurant that held three dinner seatings. It is a precursor to a bricks and mortar restaurant, which will be Randolph’s first. She said to expect the restaurant in 2018 but plans may speed up to a 2017 opening in Overtown.

“We were looking in other places for a location,” said Randolph. “For instance, North Miami is working on a food scene so we were keeping our options open. But Commissioner [Keon] Hardemon said he wants to see us open in Overtown in 2017. We sold out. There were people in line who thought they could still get in.”

Randolph isn’t surprised by the success of Juanita’s Kitchen, which is named after her grandmother, who is the inspiration for the business.

“We are consistent, always open and provide good food and great customer service. But we keep going for my grandmother,” Randolph said. “My mom and my great-grandmother died about a month apart and it was really hard on my grandmother. My mother was the most grounded of my grandmother’s three children so my mother’s death was devastating to her.”

Juanita’s Kitchen started as a home-based business with Juanita helping to cook. Now that the business has grown and has its own chefs and cooks, Juanita still cooks, even though she doesn’t have to.

“To see her happy and excited again, makes it all worthwhile,” said Randolph of her grandmother.

Randolph also is involved with Miami Millennial Investment Group, made up of friends from the Young Professionals Network Miami. The group is buying homes in inner cities communities, rehabbing and reselling. So far, they have bought two homes in Liberty City.

“Instead of complaining we are trying to revitalize these areas,” said Randolph, who is now 32 years old.

She is also president of the Young Professional Network Miami, an arm of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the chamber. When she’s not busy doing all she is already doing, she is directing social change at the Woodson Institute Miami, which she co-founded. It is out of the Woodson Institute that the idea of the investment group was born.

Born and raised in Miami Gardens, Randolph became a mother as a teenager. She attended Skyway Elementary School and American Senior High School. She went on to graduate from Florida International University.

To be a success, she said that young people have to look at their “why” — why they are doing things and where they came from.

“I wasn’t raised in a nice neighborhood. But I would see nice homes on TV and I knew I wanted that for myself,” said Randolph. “I knew I was going to college because at Skyway, Frederica Wilson was our principal and she shaped that into us.”