A Texas Woman’s degree is helping one student fulfill a culinary passion nearly 30 years in the making.
Cheryl Brown didn’t set out to complete a bachelor’s degree when she first started college nearly three decades ago.
However, after nine schools in three different states, Brown is graduating from Texas Woman’s with a bachelor’s degree in general studies with concentrations in psychology, sociology and business. Along the way, she found her entrepreneurial footing and a way to tap into one of her earlier dreams to launch a line of unique, gourmet spice blends.
A high school dropout whose mother was addicted drugs and was raised by her dad, Brown says her family moved often and life wasn’t stable. However, she was able to finish her GED at age 16 from the Dayton, Ohio, job corps before moving to live with a relative in California at age 17. It was there that a relative encouraged her to continue her education. She started taking classes at San Jacinto Community College, but Brown says her heart was not in it.
Over the next 27 years, Brown would enroll in a school, only to leave a few months later. Sometimes it was for financial reasons. Sometimes it was because of depression. And sometimes, it was because a dangerous relationship was jeopardizing her safety and well-being. At one point, she even enrolled in the Washburne Culinary School in Chicago. But challenges remained.
“I went to culinary school with bruises on my body,” said Brown, adding that she was even strangled once by her longtime boyfriend at the time.
Despite the difficulties, it was during her time in culinary school that she found the inspiration to start creating original spice blends.
She began with a single, “all purpose” spice. Not long thereafter, she began working as a personal chef to various celebrities. A major restaurant chain expressed interest in her spice blend, but when co-owners of the franchise decided against it, Brown let her culinary dreams go.
“I just gave up on it,” she said. She would get orders periodically. However, instead of selling her product, she would make and ship it for free to customers around the U.S.
A desperate move in the right direction
After she gave birth to her first and only son at age 24, Brown – now a single mom – often found that going to school was a necessity.
“A lot of times I was going to college was to take a few classes so that I could get financial aid, which was an income source for my child and I to survive off of,” says Brown. “It was a desperate move in the right direction. As a single mother, sometimes you do things like that to survive.”
Brown said that her survival mentality began to change when she moved to Denton, Texas, and started taking courses at TWU in 2009.
“When you are a single parent, you feel all alone,” recalled Brown about her first on-campus experiences. “TWU was a place where I could go for counseling, to talk to people or to get a hug. That was important because I had really isolated myself. It felt like someone had my back.”
However, she left when things because difficult financially.
“When I dropped, it was one of the hardest things I had to do, but I always remembered the warmth here, the love, the support,” said Brown.
Second chance at a dream deferred
It would take another ten years before Brown would find her way back to Texas Woman’s. Her son was her inspiration. But before enrolling here, she started taking classes at a local community college to earn her associate’s degree.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. “Seeing the lifestyle that I had literally given my son, was sad. When he was young, I couldn’t wait for him to go to school so I could just sleep. We had been homeless several times. Eventually that gets old. This time, my son was going to college and despite all the adversity and everything that he’d been through, I wanted to prove to him that I can do it.”
And do it she did. From exercising at the Fit and Recreation Center nearly every day to traveling to Eastern Europe for a study abroad trip through TWU, Brown said her goal has been to “utilize every resource.” She said the TWU Counseling and Psychological Services has been particularly useful at helping her heal from the hurts she experienced as a child and adult.
Despite the struggles, Brown says she never forgot about her earlier culinary career hopes.
While in school, she threw new energy into the spices she’d first started making in culinary school. Producing her spices became therapeutic, and soon, she found a place in Denton where should could mix, bottle and label her unique blend. Eventually, she expanded and started selling her spices at the Denton Community Market and in person to individuals. Additionally, her products are now sold at the TWU C-Store, a small shop located in the Guinn Hall and Stark Hall commons area. After learning about and applying for a grant from the Center for Women Entrepreneurs, Brown won a $5,000 microgrant in 2018 – funds she used to upgrade her transportation and buy new supplies.
Now, that one spice blend has grown into a line of gourmet spice blends with flavors like her original All-N-One, the Hot-N-Spicey, Greens-N-Things and Sugar-N-Spice.
Her goal is to change the way consumers season their foods. All her products are free of gluten and anti-caking agents and have no MSG and lower sodium.
“A key point is that my blends are for the beginning or professional chef,” said Brown. “It’s a one-stop shop for all sorts of dishes, whether you’re making a vegetarian dish or grilling meat.”
She named her line of products “Miracle Soul” after the hope she was able to hold on to over the years. Now, she’s graduating this December and been accepted into the TWU Graduate School to begin work on her master’s degree.
“Everything you’re going through, it may not seem like it now, but ultimately, it’ll come full circle and you’ll understand why you went through the things that you went through,” said Brown.