By MICHELLE HOLLINGER
Like millions of Americans, Tiayan and Derrick Dennison hated their ‘9 to 5.’ She worked at a call center. He worked at Royal Caribbean cruise line.
Unlike the millions who continue showing up at jobs they hate week in and week out; year in and year out until retiring from professions that had nothing to do with their passion; the Dennisons saw Tiayan’s termination from the job she despised as the boost they needed to pursue their dream of opening Tyty’s Kitchen; formerly a restaurant, now a food truck.
The South Florida Times caught up with the high school sweethearts who have been married for nearly 15 years before they ventured out into Miami-Dade and Broward counties with their menu of soul food-inspired dishes, including their highly popular ‘Soul Roll’ – a fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard green wrap.
How did you decide to go into the restaurant business?
TD: It wasn’t a decision necessarily. It was more of you have no other choice. In 2011 when I was terminated, I applied for different jobs, but it was just like no, no, no. So I asked myself, ‘what am I good at?’ I can cook. I put a menu together, created an Instagram and in Jan. 2012, we created Tyty’s Kitchen and started cooking from our home.
Had you been interested in the restaurant business before you were fired?
TD: I wanted to leave (my job) but I didn’t know how to leave because I was too comfortable receiving my paycheck every two weeks. I always wanted to be in the business but I was afraid to. I was comfortable.
How did you discover your passion?
TD: I worked at a call center, and I always loved to cook. Any opportunity I had I would make big pans of food and take it to work and everyone would love it.
After launching the business, how long did it take for you to generate a following?
TD: We became really popular, really fast with our fried Oreos. We added our own twist to it, made a glaze out of Coconut Ciroc and that just made us boom really quickly.
How did Derrick join you in the business?
TD: He had his job (at Royal Caribbean) and I said (running the business) was too much, I need help. He took off from work for one week and saw the traffic that was coming through here. He took a leave of absence and never returned to his job.
How did you go from running a home-based business to opening a restaurant?
TD: He’s the one who took me to the next level. I cook and Derrick is the one who does the research. He said, ‘ok Tiayan, we’re at a standstill here in the house, what can we do to take you to the next level?’
So after a year running the business from home, you opened your restaurant. How did that go?
TD: With the restaurant, we moved too fast. We didn’t really know what we were doing. You now have overhead and it was too much. We weren’t prepared like we thought we were. It was getting to the point where I didn’t have a love for it anymore. We had a landlord that was horrible to us.
How did you go from the restaurant to the food truck?
TD: We were in the restaurant for nearly a year, and I can honestly say it was God saying to us, ‘it’s time to make some other plans.’ On the day I said to Derrick, ‘I can’t do it anymore. It’s too much’ we were blessed with a food truck.
How’s the food truck doing?
TD: The food truck, it’s been the biggest blessing ever. When you’re at your home or a restaurant, people have to come to you. There are a lot of people you’re not going to reach because of their work schedule…but with a food truck, you can move around, you can go to them. If you’re having a party at your house, at a football game, I can come to you now and we can reach many more people and I love it.
What has been the biggest challenge with running a food truck?
TD: The biggest challenge is trying to find a way to replace those big plates of food. You don’t want to carry around this big old plate, so we created the Soul Roll. Collard greens, mac and cheese and fried chicken and we deep fried it. We have a Steak Roll, with T-bone steak that I marinate overnight, then grill and mix with mozzarella cheese. I’m working on an ox tails, rice and cabbage wrap.
DD: Our biggest challenge transitioning from the restaurant to a food truck was getting in on the food truck events. We took it upon ourselves to go out and research how we can be at different events and we’ve been to the call centers, different parks, high school football games.
TD: We started creating our own places.
You also cater. What kind of events have you served?
DD: The media tent at Jazz in the Gardens, recording artist Flo Rida and Atlanta House wives Cynthia Bailey, and others.
What, if any, obstacles did you face transitioning from the restaurant to the food truck?
TD: We had hit rock bottom. I’ve never, ever been that low. If I failed, Derrick had a source of income. If he failed, I had a source of income. This was the one time neither one of us had any type of income at all. It was a good two months before the truck could get on the road and another two months before we could find a consistent location where people were constantly coming.
What role has faith played in your journey?
TD: Even though we were at rock bottom. I promise you, I will open my eyes the next day and God is like, ‘here you go.’
DD: One of the things I can say, truly holding our foundation down is God.
It seems that you embrace the law of circulation by giving as much as you receive.
DD: We do a lot of community service. Not at a big level that attracts the media, but we’ll rally up our social media friends and go out to the Overtown area and feed the homeless.
TD: A young lady just in-boxed us. Her mom passed away, her mom used to cook every day. Her father’s disabled. She’s young; she doesn’t know how to cook. She said ‘I just started working and I want to purchase dinner just to do something nice for my dad.’ She doesn’t know it yet but I’m just going to give her the meals. It’s much more rewarding than ‘I sold out today.’
How important is a solid support system?
TD: Our friends and family see how hard we worked, how much we’ve struggled and how passionate we are. It’s that genuine type of love that a lot of people don’t have and a lot of people give up on their dreams. People don’t realize you can’t do it by yourself; you have to have a support system. It doesn’t have to be a monetary support system. You need a support system because it gets stressful.
Jill Tracey at Hot 105 has been like a guardian angel. She had us at events… made us popular before we left the house. One of my best friends came to the restaurant, as I’m walking to the car, she had money rolled up in her hand and put it in my hand. She blessed us.
What keeps you going?
DD: You can’t put a price on freedom. That is what this business has brought to us. Freedom. We don’t have to punch in at a job that we hated. And we’re creating a legacy to pass on to our kids.
Do you ever consider going back to a steady paycheck?
TD: When you have a job, you know you’ll get a check. When you’re working for yourself, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If it’s pouring down raining and I may not be able to go out on the truck. You never know, but I can’t let that discourage me. I know that God has me and He will take care of me and my family and everything is going to be OK. He didn’t bring us this far to say ‘you’re on your own now.’