Deirdre Holliday-White is the owner of Flavor Garden in D.C.’s Ward 3. The full-service restaurant specializes in serving up “fun food,” like funnel cakes and cheeseburgers.

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

Deirdre Holliday-White was inspired to open her first restaurant, the Flavor Garden, in Washington, D.C., out of personal tribulations. 

She initially started a career in hotel and restaurant management, but after graduating from culinary school at Stratford University’s Tysons Corner campus, the D.C. native discovered her mother was diagnosed with non-hodgkin lymphoma. 

Holliday-White moved in with her mother to support her through chemotherapy. That’s when the toll of the treatment caused her mother to stop eating. 

“The doctors were really worried and told me I had to have her keep her weight up. So I started cooking and seasoning her food,” said Holliday-White. “I would make these different seasonings just to keep her motivated to eat, and a lot of my family would come by to taste it. They were like, ‘You should sell this.’”

And so, she did. 

Holliday-White’s business took off. She expanded her personal seasoning line to include spices, butters, rubs and sauces and began selling them online. She also offered cooking classes to show customers how to properly use the seasonings. 

And then tragedy struck– again. 

Just as the business began taking off, her husband died in a car accident. Holliday-White became a single mother to a four-year-old son, Donovan. She knew he was depending on her, but the struggling with her grief was an uphill battle.

“I just kind of quit. I didn’t know what to do, where to go or what my next step was. My son saw how sad I was, and he wasn’t really understanding what was going on,” said Holliday-White. “He kept asking me if I could teach him how to cook something, and that got me back in the kitchen and motivated.” 

After a successful one-year stint running a snack bar in Laurel, Md., Holliday-White was ready to grow the business to a full-service restaurant. But, then COVID-19 pandemic hit, and her aspirations were postponed once again. 

Then came 2022. A colleague from Holliday-White’s time in the hospitality industry informed her that a property was for sale on the 4400 block of Connecticut Ave in D.C.’s Ward 3. 

“Mind you, we were still kind of in COVID. It was a blessing and a curse because I [knew] I could truly expand, but then I knew everyone was still afraid to come outside,” said Holliday-White. “I figured this opportunity had to [come from] nobody other than God, and I figured at least I could show my son I tried.”

Flavor Garden opened in June 2022. The full-service restaurant and bar leverages Holliday-White’s homemade seasonings to create what she called, “fun food.” Some of the establishments’ most popular items include funnel cakes, shrimp po’ boys, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches and jambalaya flatbreads. 

Customers can also separately purchase Holliday-White’s seasoning blends, sauces and rubs to use at home. By the fall, she plans to begin offering date night and college-survival culinary classes at the restaurant.

One day, she’d also like to open a second Flavor Garden in Maryland near the National Harbor. 

At present, accessing capital remains Holliday-White’s biggest challenge to growing and sustaining her business. 

“I didn’t have a lot of capital when I started my business. I had a lot of the equipment, so I had a little bit of a head start, but I really wasn’t prepared for everything that goes into running a restaurant,” said Holliday-White. “Minimum wage also just went up for D.C. in July to $17. I have to walk a fine line between pricing my food [properly] and paying my employees.” 

This year, Holliday-White is gearing up for her second Greater Washington D.C. Black Restaurant Week, which runs from July 16 to July 30. She’s excited to use the campaign to create more exposure for her business. 

Falayn Ferrell, managing partner of Black Restaurant Week, concurred that capital is a significant obstacle to first-time restaurant owners like Holliday-White. 

“Lack of start-up capital is a challenge for first-time restaurant owners. Often, they have limited financial resources to stretch to help support all of their business operations, human resources, marketing and supplies,” said Ferrell. 

This makes Black Restaurant Week even more important for restaurateurs to capitalize on. 

“Creating awareness of your business is critical when you first open. The community loves supporting local businesses, but oftentimes they aren’t aware they are there,” said Ferrell. “Black Restaurant Week is a great awareness campaign to showcase local businesses to their community. Restaurant owners have reported continued foot traffic of new customers to their business up to one to two months after the campaign has ended.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member. 

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