It was Chef Vaughn Moore’s original cake creation for Beverly Bond’s Black Girls Rock! event (click here for the event recap) that first caught our eye, so we had to learn more about this Cake Master! CEO and Founder of Mere Viola, Chef Moore is turning his talent into a profitable culinary business. We spoke to Chef Moore and he opened up about his Louisiana pride, how he handles family members who just want “the hook-up” and why his company is more than just food.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started?
I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana but I’m actually an eighth generation descendant of the Gene de couleur or the free people of color of New Orleans. My great-grandmother, being sort of the matriarch of the family, was born around 1768 in New Orleans as a free woman of color. And so it kind of inspired me to research the history in order to pursue what I’m doing now because she was a business owner back in early 1800s.
She owned a coffeehouse and a boarding home. I ventured my way into the culinary industry sort of on a whim. I had a friend of mine say, “Vaughn, can you do a cake for me?” I made a red velvet cake and they loved it and then they wanted to know if I can decorate them. As a result of that I came up with developing a company. It just came to me one day, you know, I’m getting tired of working in corporate America, I need to think about starting something.
My mom and her grandmother happen to be named Viola and I came up with the name Mere Viola because mere in French means “mother.” It was like paying homage to the matriarchs of my family. One of the things we want to do with Mere Viola is to create a foundation later on that provides preventative medicine and preventive care for women. Dealing with my mom’s situation, my mom had been sick pretty much throughout my whole life. She’s the inspiration and the motivation behind what I’m doing and I always say, before she leaves this world, she’s is going to see her name and how great it will become in the hearts and minds of people.
As a chef and owner, what kind of challenges have you faced in creating and having your own business?
With any start-up or entrepreneurship idea, it’s about getting it to the market and getting people to recognize that you have a valuable product.
These are the comments I get from people; “Where you been all of my life?!” I’m like, “I’ve been here, but no one saw.” This is one of the reasons why I participate in food events like the New York City Food and Wine Festival, the Harlem EatUp events, etc. One of the greatest challenges is not only getting it to market but also the funding costs behind it. It’s all about marketing and funding.
Do you have any advice for small business owners or entrepreneurs who are trying to get funding?
My advice to any entrepreneur, especially young African American and Latino entrepreneurs, is study your craft. Make sure it’s your passion and not just something you want to make a quick dollar off because when you set off to create a business it must be something that drives you. It must be something that you get all types of delight and enjoyment from. Because if it’s not something that you love doing, your clients and your customers will be able to sense that and they will know that it’s not real. In this day and the time people recognize real.
It’s about perseverance, it’s about determination, it’s about passion, and more or less it’s about never giving up.
A lot of times, you’re not gonna have the glamour in the beginning, you know, you’re gonna spend countless hours working late at night when everyone is sleeping because you become the CEO, you become the marketer, the publicist…until those elements are filled in your company. Have a never-give-up attitude.
I’ve seen some of your amazing creations and I bet you have friends and family asking for “the hookup.” What do you do in those situations? How do mix business and personal?
I tell my family, “Whatever dollar amount you’re putting in, you are building in something for the family.” A lot of times what people don’t realize is that if they contribute to a business, then the business can actually begin to do things for free. From time to time I don’t mind doing a free event, sometimes it’s not always about getting finances, sometimes it’s getting my feet into doors. When you’re dealing with family you have to let them know “this is a business,” and when you contribute to the business, then we’re creating jobs, we’re creating a family legacy, we’re creating something your children, my nieces, my nephews, and your grandchildren can have a part of when I’m dead and gone. Get them in that business mindset. They’re thinking about immediate gratification rather than long term gratification.
Where do you get your creative inspiration from? You do more than bake, you cook as well.
I have taken cooking classes here and there but I’m an artist by trade. I’ve been drawing pretty much since I’ve been able to walk. My inspiration comes from watching my mom growing up first of all and seeing how she would get in the kitchen and pick whatever we had and make a meal. A lot of my dishes are some of the dishes that remind me of what she was able to do, but I do it on a healthier level and with a more beautiful presentation. Because mom was cooking to feed the family. She wasn’t cooking to sit up there and make everything look beautiful on a plate. Plus, I grew up in Louisiana around good eating and that’s inspiration within itself! The food there is an electric blend of so many cultures.
So where can people order your food and creations?
Right now we’re in the process of putting our online website together which will have our e-commerce store in it. We’re partnering with others to be able have the food delivered and also for corporate events and private events, etc. In the interim, they can contact us through our email firstname.lastname@example.org they can also call at 917-402-1243, or our other number, 347-483-5574. We’re open for business Monday through Saturday, 9am-6pm. We’re gonna have gumbo and all types of boudin; traditional pork boudin, traditional seafood boudin, crawfish boudin, red bean sausage and rice boudin, okra and chicken boudin.
We have something that will remind everyone of “Mama” and of grandmama and the joy and the delight that you had when they were in the kitchen cooking.
All Images by Leonardo Nunez