By Kharisma McIlwaine
The pandemic shook all of our lives to the core in some way. During this time, many of us have had to reevaluate our next steps as the world remains in turmoil from COVID-19. Despite the tremendous loss so many of us have experienced, there has also been breakthrough. Some people have found new passions and have shifted careers as a direct result.
Donna Richardson, known for being a health and fitness guru, and her mother — affectionately known as Mama LaVerne — did just that. Over the past year, the mother and daughter duo took one of their favorite family recipes for chicken and waffles and transformed it into a new venture which birthed Mama LaVerne’s Chicken Seasoning, Waffle and Pancake Mix. Donna Richardson and Mama LaVerne spoke to the SUN about their journey creating the mix, working together as mother and daughter and their mission to unite families again through the love of food and tradition.
One of the gifts that came from the pandemic was more time — more time with family and more time to explore passions. With the exploration of passions came the birth of new ideas. For Mama LaVerne and Richardson, that idea became Mama LaVerne’s Chicken Seasoning, Waffle and Pancake Mix.
“A lot of this came out of the pandemic and started in our own kitchen mixing it up and mailing it out,” Richardson said. “Then we took that recipe and we worked with a food scientist to take the recipe and turn it into a commercial formula so we could mass produce it.”
Mama LaVerne has spent many years traveling and cooking for family, friends, and celebrities alike for every occasion. She did so without ever charging anyone any money. She shared her love for cooking purely out of the kindness of her heart; sharing the family recipe with the world as a way of encouraging the passing down of generational recipes.
“My mom passed the recipe down to me,” Mama LaVerne said. “I was traveling around meeting celebrities and friends and I was doing all this cooking out of love. I would share and everyone was enjoying it. They were saying how good it was and people would say ‘why don’t you put it out on the market?’ Donna and I thought about [it] and talked about it. At first, we said, maybe a restaurant, and at 81, I said ‘I don’t know too much about a restaurant.’ Then the thought came up about a food truck, [but] again, I said that wasn’t a good way to go. Then Donna said, ‘how about a flour mix?’ and I said ‘that sounds like what we can do. That would be a good way to put the product out there.’”
After a year of experimenting and lots of trial and error, Mama LaVerne and Richardson were able to take their product to retail.
“It took a year,” Richardson said. “It takes time to get partners in place to mass produce, because it’s not just about mass producing the product, you have to have a company to do packaging. We had to work with them to get the right packaging that represented this brand. Then we had to have a spice company to partner with, that provides the ingredients, and then the co-packer, who takes the ingredients, blends it together and packages it. Then we had to have a good market for Amazon, because now you’re ready to take it to market to sell online and for retail. It takes a lot of time, not only to go through that process of the final product, you’re also taking that time to do your research, focus groups, and your business plan. All of that happened within that year.”
Mama LaVerne’s Chicken Seasoning, Waffle and Pancake Mix launched on Amazon this year on Mother’s Day. It didn’t take long before fans of Richardson and Mama LaVerne started requesting it in their stores. The result was that ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer in Philadelphia began selling their mix.
“That happened in June and two months later in August, we launched,” Richardson said. “The timeline is incredible… God is good. I was talking to a colleague of mine, and he has had a product for the last ten years. We were catching up and he was congratulating me about the product. I was telling him about it launching on Amazon in May and how it was going to be launching in retail. He said to me, ‘Donna, I don’t think you know how incredible that is… I’ve had my product for 10 years and haven’t been able to get into a grocery store.’”
‘Everyone is fighting for shelf space,” Richardson added. “Not only do you have to have a good product, but you have to be able to get into the door. That is the most challenging thing for anyone who has a product that they want to take to retail.”
Richardson and Mama LaVerne’s love for giving back to the community, is what laid the foundation to what would later be a full circle moment with Jeff Brown, (owner of many Philadelphia ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer stores).
“I’ve done a lot of community work around the country, but I did a lot in Philadelphia with The Boys and Girls Club for years,” Richardson said. “Mr. Brown remembered me from when I toured with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program. We came to Philly and went to different schools and worked with the kids and family to create their own gardens and start regular fitness activities with their families. Mr. Brown was the nutritional consultant and grocery store partner. We are excited and humbled to be in his stores. It’s been lots of perseverance — pushing through all the heartaches and losses of loved ones and know that God’s got us.”
Mama LaVerne and Richardson attribute their success to their love for people and connection to family traditions.
“It’s been about love and sharing and I enjoy people, cooking and I enjoy dancing and I just wanted to share this with our people because it gets away from us” Mama LaVerne said. “A lot of our mom’s recipes get away from us and we don’t do anything with them. We try to pass it down and sometimes the youth fail to take an interest in them, so I didn’t mind sharing because I wanted other people to enjoy [them] like my family and friends enjoy [them]. That’s what it’s all about… sharing and giving that love to people from your heart and giving back to people what God has given to you. Psalms 37:4 says “delight ourselves also in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of our heart.”
“It’s been a blessing to have this family business,” Richardson added. “We want to create wealth and to create generational health and so it’s much bigger than us. We hope we can inspire other families and other mothers and daughters to just go after your dreams.”
Mama LaVerne’s Chicken Seasoning, Waffles and Pancake mix is available for purchase on Amazon, and at ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer stores in Philadelphia. Please share this product with family and friends and ask your local grocery stores to carry it. To keep up with this dynamic mother and daughter duo, be sure to follow them on Instagram at: @iamDonnaRichardson and @mamalavernesfood and at their respective websites at: www.donnarichardson.com and www.mamalaverneschickenandwaffles.com.