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3 Chicago sisters share their love of Puerto Rican food with the community

Sisters (left to right) Cecile De Mello, Jessica Holmes and Lenora Carroll (Photo credit: Tony Binns for Steed Media)

SoulBoricua catering is the brainchild of sisters Cecile De Mello, Jessica Holmes and Lenora Carroll, who combine their love of their African American and Puerto Rican heritage and work together to share their passion for family, community and wholesome food. The trio, who call Chicago’s Englewood community home, learned the joy of cooking and food preparation early on.

Carroll shared their journey with rolling out.

What was your family’s relationship with food?

We have always had a strong correlation with food within the Carroll home. Being from two diverse and food-driven cultures of African American and Puerto Rican, our mother would combine those two cuisines within our home. It was great to taste the two dynamics and how the flavors played off of each other. Even as young girls, our parents were adamant about our independence. In our home, everyone had a week to prepare dinner. Our mom had one week, our dad had another week, and the girls had a week. This instilled a sense of independence and control over our food early on in our lives that still holds true.

 What was your family’s idea when you started your catering company?

We started the catering company at the request of the oldest sister, Cecile. She was running a not-for-profit and was frustrated by the type of food that community meetings were having — pizza, donuts — [that] just weren’t healthy or smart dining. Jessica, the chef, was also frustrated with the culinary and hospitality industry’s low wages and lack of care for employees. The thirst was to create a social enterprise that delivered healthy food at low cost, employed marginalized individuals at a living wage and showcased the unique fusion cuisine we had grown up on.

 What is the best business advice you received and could share with others looking to step out on their own with a catering business?

The best advice we received is that you can’t be everything to everyone. When we were first deciding our approach and menu, it was difficult to fully decide the approach to tackle such a big task. We had to truly pinpoint who we wanted to service and in what capacity. Our father told us you can’t be it all. It’s important to narrow down who you want to service and create a plan within that. Not everyone may like the options or style, but some will, and those are your customers.

 Tell me about your recent product launch with Whole Foods in Englewood?

The most amazing, exhausting, frustrating day ever! It was a thrilling experience full of hiccups and mess-ups, but it’s important to understand that failure is not an option and we have learned from it. One of the most full-circle experiences. Here we stood on the corner of 63rd and Halsted across from our grandmother’s final house at Bethel Terrace, with our abuela (grandmother), our mother and a recipe they all helped us create. It was a feeling none of us will ever forget.

Whole Foods Englewood carries SoulBourica products or you can find them at