Dionne Knox, chef and owner of Zella’s Soulful Kitchen—a café and catering company—has always loved to feed people. “I like to encourage people to get back to the table,” she said. “Have a meal at a table, and share what went on in your day.”
Zella’s Soulful Kitchen was inspired by both of Dionne’s grandmothers. One grandmother taught her how to cook Southern-inspired comfort food favorites with a healthy spin, and the other had a huge garden. “I remember going and picking greens for dinner. There was always a cake to be offered to guests and everyone knew it.”
Dionne started her business informally, having private dinner parties for friends, and eventually, a wedding, and then decided to go into business full time in 2009 with a mission to bring healthy, fresh food to the West Oakland community.
When Dionne had the opportunity to expand her business with the Mandela Foods Grocery, a Worker-Owned Cooperative, a few years later, she came to Working Solutions for a $25,000 loan to pursue her dream. Dionne used the loan to buy small wares, an espresso machine, and to hire new employees. The loan helped her expand her business, as well as her customer base, giving her a solid presence in Oakland. Dionne is grateful to Working Solutions for the help in loan preparation and for the follow-up afterwards to check on her progress.
Today, Dionne’s business is thriving. Her signature dishes and healthy meals—blackberry-chili glazed turkey meatballs, braised short rib sandwich, and banana pudding!—are a staple at her café. Her Biscuit Breakfast Sandwich was voted one of the East Bay’s Best by SF Eater. Dionne estimates that she has created at least 10 jobs over the years, both full- and part-time, with her business.
Dionne was also just featured in We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream, a new cookbook compiled by La Cocina to highlight the stories and recipes of over 40 local women entrepreneurs.
Looking ahead, Zella’s is getting ready to move into a bigger, shared space near 14th Street in the Oakland City Center. Dionne would eventually like to have her own space where she can continue to serve food and teach cooking classes, sharing her philosophy about food and community.
Stop by and say hello to Dionne, and try some of her delicious Southern-comfort food delights!
Zella’s Soulful Kitchen
Opening summer 2019 at Oakland City Center (499 14th Street, Suite 117)
La Cocina Cookbook: We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream
Article in Nosh on February 23, 2015: “Zella’s brings smiles and soul food to West Oakland”
Article in SFGate on October 3, 2014: “Zella’s Soulful Kitchen debuts in West Oakland”
Read more Working Solutions Client Success Stories here.