BY Stephen Nartey, 6:00pm April 26, 2023,

This chef started her business to raise funds for her church and became an overnight success

Lucille Bishop Smith/Photo credit: James Beard Foundation

Her journey is one of resilience, determination, and an unwavering passion for food. Despite a sharp distinction between racial acceptance at Fort Worth and the Pinky Woods of Crockett, Texas, where she was born and raised, her perseverance triumphed in the long run.  Lucille Bishop Smith is a name that has become synonymous with culinary excellence and entrepreneurship in the black community.

However, this whole experience started when her father transported farm produce and fruits to the Huston-Tillotson University in return for the education of his children. This role played by her father in the food chain led to the meteoric rise of Lucille in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as American history. When she relocated to the community with her husband, Ulysses “U.S.” Samuel Smith, she was barely on the move to establish herself, but she knew French cuisine was where she needed to build her expertise because of the soft spot she had for it. 

Despite facing numerous challenges and setbacks, including racism and discrimination, Lucille was persistent in pursuing her culinary dreams. She gained recognition in her community when she was given the responsibility to raise funds for her church, St. Andrew United Methodist. This was at a time when there was high craving for prepared foods in the United States, as a result of World War II. Many women had joined the war and were rendering various services, leaving a vacuum for the preparation of homemade foods.

Convenience foods had become the order of the day, and Lucille decided to tap into this gap of thirst and position her fundraising drive on the preparation of hot roll mix, which is a ready-to-go mix food that had been baked. Soon, it became a favorite of many food lovers, enabling Lucille to raise $800, which would translate to $9,692 today with her “All Purpose Hot Roll Mix”. She donated the proceeds to the church, but her recipe became an instant sensation. 

She began getting orders from grocery shops that were racing to satisfy the taste of their consumers. What further spurred her fortunes was a request from American Airlines, proposing to partner with her to produce chili biscuits for its air travelers.

Though Lucille wanted to go large-scale with her food business, the discriminatory policies of local banks made it difficult for her to secure the needed funds to propel her business aspirations. She was reputed as one of the first African American businesswomen to legally file documentation for her company. In 1966 Fort Worth recognized April 28 as “Lucille B. Smith Day.” 

Though she passed away in 1985, it can be boldly said that beyond her culinary talents, Lucille was a vocal advocate for black chefs and entrepreneurs, advocating for increased representation and opportunities in the culinary world. She mentored aspiring black chefs, provided employment opportunities for people in her community, and used her platform to raise awareness about the challenges and inequalities faced by black culinary professionals.

She has blazed trails, shattered glass ceilings, and opened doors for future generations of black chefs and entrepreneurs. Her story is one of resilience, courage, and determination, and serves as an inspiration to aspiring culinary professionals, particularly those from marginalized communities, to pursue their passions and make a difference in their industries.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 26, 2023


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