Stella’s and Mazie’s has been cooking and serving African-American, West African, and Caribbean food to takeout or enjoy at Stella’s Eatery on Capital Avenue or for catered events through Mazie’s Catering since the two chefs decided to go into business together in 2016.
Edna Carrington (Chef Mazie, pictured left) and deLinda Jagne (Chef Stella, pictured right) spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about their experience as a Hartford-based, women-owned business.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little history about how the business came together.
CHEF MAZIE: We met and became friends at Lincoln Culinary Institute. Stella had wanted to open an eatery and I wanted to focus on catering. When we graduated from culinary school, we both spent a month or so working at this location, which was basically a sandwich shop. We had befriended the landlord and, when the owner didn’t renew, he opened up the opportunity for us to rent this place.
NAN: Why Hartford? When you thought about opening your businesses, did you intend to be here?
CHEF STELLA: We both grew up in Hartford. It all came together quickly and we were blessed to be here at this place. So far, it’s working out really well.
MAZIE: Starting out, neither of us had jobs, so that was a big challenge. But we just took what we had and made it happen. The theme of the eatery came about because of our lack of funds. We shopped based on how much money we had. Making something different every day, people would know they were getting fresh food. Now that we’re more established, we’ve kept that theme because people enjoy the surprise of finding out what we’re serving each day when we post our menu—and we still shop fresh.
NAN: Have you formed collaborations with any local food suppliers?
STELLA: Not yet. I’ve been attending the Eat Up Meet Up Culinary Collaborative Gatherings in Hartford [part of Hartford’s New Food Incubator & Mentorship Program] and I’ve made some contacts. I met some folks from KNOX and some local farmers who we’d like to work with. Our menu is seasonal, so it will be awesome to team up with a local KNOX farmer to help out with our food supply.
NAN: You’re trained chefs. How did you get the skills to be business owners?
STELLA: A little bit of trial and error and a little bit of common sense!
NAN: Is the business just the two of you?
STELLA: No, there are five of us. My mom and my youngest daughter help out. My middle daughter, Chrissy, is responsible for all our online presence. She posts the menus on our social media pages. She does the register and some in between work. She’s the “and” in Stella’s and Mazie’s.
NAN: Starting out, how did you market and build clientele?
STELLA: When we started, knew social media had to play a big part in it because our personal funds were limited for marketing. And, because we were new to this business, we didn’t have other culinary contacts. We created events on Facebook and people came. They shared about it and told friends, who told friends, who told friends. So, it was a lot of word of mouth.
NAN: What would you say are the biggest challenges you face as business owners?
STELLA: I think our biggest challenge has been not knowing what each day will bring. We plan to feed 30 to 50 people a day. Some days, two people show up; some days, 70 people show up. We don’t have a problem turning people away or offering them something that isn’t on the menu.
NAN: This is a great location. It feels like the whole area has been blossoming with different businesses.
MAZIE: It does. And we support each other. Chef Stella’s youngest daughter and I like love being so close to Capital Ice Cream!
STELLA: It’s true. We support all the nearby businesses. I used to get my hair done at Red Carpet Barber Shop. My daughter and I go Fire-N-Spice and get pho at Banh Meee. We get coffee at Story and Soil and they come in for lunch. A lot of the property owners the on Capitol Avenue support us, too. It’s nice. It’s a community here.