Chef Erica Barrett knows a thing or two about how hot it can get in the kitchen. In Episode 1 of the SistersInc. podcast, “Taking the Heat,” Barrett tells how she started Southern Culture Artisan Foods, how business boomed after an appearance on Shark Tank, how she ultimately got lots of exposure but none of the cash—and how she eventually ended up taking on $500,000 worth of debt.
Like many entrepreneurs, Barrett started out in corporate America and had a well-paying job but wanted more freedom and greater fulfillment. “You just know. It’s like this gut feeling. You’re just like ‘it’s time to leave,'” she says. And she decided to follow her passion: “I loved cooking and that’s where I laid all of my burdens down, so to speak, in the kitchen.”
Barrett began her transition to entrepreneurship as a caterer, before getting a breakthrough in a cooking contest with the Food Network. She then launched Southern Culture, originally as a pancake company.
Just two months into her business, Barrett applied for Shark Tank. “They told me that they loved my personality but I needed to get more sales,” she says. Undeterred, she applied for the next season. “You have to be that determined with things, and very persistent to get on a show like that. What do statistics say? It’s easier to get into Harvard than on Shark Tank—that’s how many people apply.”
Her time on the show appeared to be a success: she walked away with a $100,000 offer from Barbara Corcoran. But by the time the due diligence was complete, a year later, they mutually agreed that the deal no longer made sense. “By that time I was in a better position, and didn’t really need the money,” Barrett says.
But a few years later, things had changed. “I was going through a very tough time with my business,” she says. “Keeping up with purchase orders, grocery stores, trying to finance things, not really having the right sales team. I look up and I’m close to half a million dollars in debt.”
And then the real story begins: instead of buckling under the pressure, this resilient woman entrepreneur kept her cool, dug her way out, and brought the business back to profitability. To hear how she did it, check out Episode 1 of the SistersInc. podcast.
SistersInc. is Black Enterprise’s podcast for and about women business owners, hosted by Executive Managing Editor Alisa Gumbs. Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America and on every episode, we’ll sit down with one successful CEO to share how she slays the challenges of being a black woman in business.