Meet Genia Williams and Tamika Carr-Hurley, the two halves of Fat Sisters, LLC, and Butterfat Bistro in Hapeville, Georgia. The mainstay bistro is located in the heart of Hapeville and has one goal through it all: to serve wholesome, nutritious and affordable meals to the community.
Q: Can you tell us more about your background and how Fat Sisters, LLC came together?
Tamika: I am a native Atlantan and Grady Memorial Hospital baby, born and raised. I live in Southwest Atlanta and wanted to open Butterfat Bistro in a local area, so I decided on Hapeville. I wanted to do something for the community and really show it off in the community I love so much.
I started my collegiate education at Georgia Southern University, where I studied to be a lawyer. Throughout my education there, I worked part-time at restaurants on-campus to support myself. I worked a corporate job for a while, but my calling was always in the food industry. My grandmother taught me how to cook when I was six years old, and everyone in our family cooked, so it came naturally. Which eventually birthed Richardson’s Family Affairs Catering, the start of a career in a field I’m passionate about.
Genia: I’m an Atlanta native, born and raised. I actually started cooking when I was about 10 years old, but I realized when I was even younger that I loved cooking from watching my dad, aunt and grandmothers. It just always seemed to come naturally to me.
When I was a student at Tri-Cities High School, I met my business partner, Tamika. She was a mentor for our culinary arts club, where students competed with others across Georgia. I became more interested in cooking, and Tamika really took me under her wing as an apprentice, working with her catering company when I was just 15 years old. After I began working catering events, I realized the culinary industry was for me, because I remained interested and never gave up on it. Tamika and I stayed close for years after that, and we decided we wanted to do more with the catering company.
Tamika and I initially branched out by selling our jams, all during my second year of college. Things were really going well; we educated folks on what all you could do with jams, outside of just spreading it on bread. We taught them about desserts, and all kinds of other things, then decided to continue what we were building. We expanded into providing healthy food for people - using our jams, of course. After Tamika was diagnosed with Chron’s disease and breast cancer, we promoted healthy meals that taste good. Helping with weight loss and eating proper amounts of protein and vegetables came along with it. That’s really how it got started; we just continued to push it and think of new ways to communicate with our community.
Q: What led you to open a business in Hapeville?
Tamika: I ran a catering company for 16 years and worked in restaurants until I decided to become a full-time business owner with the bistro, which I loved since I grew up in the community. Shutting down our family catering company and starting a new business was an eye-opener. It has been tough to get people to see that our catering company and bistro are the same - just with a different name. Both businesses stand for the same concept of loving our customers and wanting to provide them with healthy food. Healthy does not have to relate to flavorless food; we are flavorful, and we can live a lot longer if we think differently about what we put in our mouths! That’s something I want to drive home to our community daily, and it’s a huge reason why we decided to open in Hapeville.
Genia: I’m not from Hapeville, but I am from the Tri-Cities area - College Park, specifically. I had a friend who worked at Buttersweet Bakery, where we’re now located, and they had talked about expanding their offerings to provide hot, grab-and-go food to guests. That’s really how we got connected, and the area is perfect because Tamika and I already knew the clientele.
Tamika and I sat down with Buttersweet Bakery’s owners, Charlita and her husband, and everything was on par for both parties. It just worked because we knew the area so well, they knew the community and we had clients there, as well. It seemed like the perfect fit, so we decided to partner together to provide Buttersweet Bakery’s customers with hot food. Tamika and I have known each other so long, we can pretty much finish each other’s sentences, and there were ups and downs, but we all rearranged our ideas to make it fit the market.
Q: How has your business model changed through COVID-19?
Tamika: This pandemic has been full of unknowns for us, but we remain thankful because our catering business is booming. We have lots of to-go orders, and through it all, it has allowed the businesses to grow and see where their strengths are. We are still navigating COVID-19 and trying to secure the Payment Protection Program for our employees.
Genia: Because of COVID-19, we’ve gone strictly to meal prepping. We do some catered events here and there, but it really depends on the location and size of the party. Through all of this, one of our main goals was to help the community however we can. I’m a Fulton County School Systems educator, so working with students is a passion of mine. So many kids are not going to school, and families have to budget for lunches at home, so we designed a program to give free meals to families in need throughout the pandemic. We gathered information from churches, schools, friends and family, then targeted families and college students in the Tri-Cities area. It became one of those things we wanted to do because we’re all about our community, and it honestly went better than we expected. So far, we’ve fed 30 sets of families, which is amazing that we’re able to do that as a small company. We still try to feed at least one family each weekend… just trying to see what the future holds and how to move forward.
Q: Can you tell us more about opening the businesses and what that process looked like?
Genia: There were lots of bumps in the road… in fact, it was super bumpy! For our catering company, Tamika was actually catering before she even knew me, and everything operated out of her parent’s basement - of course, you were able to do that back then. She’d recruit high school students in the culinary program to help, and we all got hands-on experience by helping her cater events on the weekends. As I got older, the numbers dwindled and some of us graduated from high school, but I stayed with Tamika the whole time, no matter how many other students came to help. Eventually, it was just the two of us. When rules changed, we decided to move to a storefront, and that’s when we were connected with Buttersweet Bakery in Hapeville. It was honestly perfect timing. We eventually partnered with Buttersweet Bakery to provide Delta Airlines with coffee and pastries each Monday morning for their flight attendant training.
Q: Did you have any goals before opening? If so, have they changed along the way?
Tamika: Before opening, our goal was to open something that wasn’t happening on the Southside of town. We wanted people to know that they don’t have to go to Buckhead, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to get good, wholesome food. Things don’t always have to be fried and smothered! We love picking several ingredients, throwing them together and seeing what we can make out of it - and showing others they can do the same.
Genia: We’ve hit some of our goals, with helping the community as a priority. Another goal was building a team, which has been great because it was just Tamika and me for a while. We actually started in the Irwin Street incubator kitchen and began prepping 70+ orders, which is a ton for just two people in a small kitchen. Now, we mainly target high school students interested in the culinary field, who work with us part-time to work in a hands-on environment and gain experience that allows them to elevate their career to something bigger down the line. We really try to help students see if culinary arts is something they want to do in the long-term, so we show them what it’s really like - and that it’s not easy. It takes commitment.
A personal goal I’d like to achieve is getting back to my roots: baking! I began baking when I was 14 years old, and people called me “Cookie Lady” in high school. I made a ton of money back then just by selling cookies. I’m still an active baker and would love to eventually sell my cookies again. Customers have asked about vegan and gluten-free cookies, and it takes a lot of time! I’m obsessed with recipes, and it took 10 years to develop the perfect chocolate chip cookie, but now we’ve got cinnamon toast crunch, birthday cake, double fudge, oatmeal and more.
Tamika and I are planning to bring back our jams - even if it’s just seasonally. This year, we’ll have sweet potato, bacon, apple bourbon and Asian chili jams.
Q: Genia, you mentioned you’re an educator. How has your teaching career shifted during COVID-19?
Since I’m an educator, one of my favorite things we’ve been able to do is getting students interested in the culinary field, trained and prepared them for jobs in and out of high school. We’ve trained so many students to work in hotels, restaurants… you name it. It’s been a challenge to teach through COVID-19, especially since culinary arts is so hands-on, but I’ve been trying to be as communicative and verbal as possible. Right now, a huge focus is getting sanitation practices engrained in their brains, especially because of COVID-19 - that way they’re equipped to get a job and protect themselves while working. We also prepare them to get their ServSafe certification, so they’re able to receive better pay and are more likely to get a job.
Q: How do you both believe your business contributes to the Hapeville community?
Tamika: We have been trying to come together with our community. Every time someone purchased a jam, we would donate 5% of sales to a fund for Crohn’s disease. I’m a survivor of both Chron’s disease and breast cancer - now, we are trying to tie all of that together and help local students as well. We want to help young people and allow them to be a part of our organization, and it feels awesome; it really does. I tear up thinking about it. I’ve watched it blossom and bloom, and to see what all is happening is amazing to me. Seeing Main Street and the Hapeville community flourish is a phenomenal thing.
Genia: Feeding families through COVID-19 has definitely been awesome. It was great to see how well-received it was, and we would surprise families on Sundays. Sometimes our clients would purchase entire meals and ask us not to tell the families where it came from until the day-of. Some families were so surprised, and being able to give a few meals and seeing their appreciation was amazing. We also fed some of my students, because I knew their families were going through a tough time. It was so nice to drive up, deliver the food and see them, even during quarantine when we were getting used to virtual learning.
We’re very giving people, and we love to give folks good food, but we also love to give them our time and someone who is listening. Sometimes, it’s all someone needs - another person to talk through their problems with. I learned most of that through my time as an educator, because my students are in high school and have a lot on their minds. They don’t always have the chance to express their ideas or emotions to their families or friends, and being able to be a listener is a pretty cool thing to me. It’s something I’ve always aspired to be - a listener, someone who helps others.
Q: Can you tell us about a business accomplishment you’re really proud of?
Genia: Honestly, staying open throughout COVID-19 is an accomplishment on its own! When it all began, I was teaching virtually for the first time, taking classes virtually for the first time to finish my teaching degree, alongside meal prepping for our catering business. I really had to humble myself and take a step back, because no matter how tired I was, Tamika was ready to get back on it. We continued to brainstorm how we could help people, and Tamika’s energy helped to keep me motivated through it all. I thought, “we’re here for a reason, and this is what we wanted to do in the first place, so why not?” The timing ended up being perfect. We collaborated, got creative and just did what we actually came here to do.
Fat Sisters actually comes from a Bible verse - inheriting the fat of the land, and our purpose was not just to inherit, but to prosper and give the fat of the land to others, too. Through all of this, that mantra has been ringing in my head, so my main accomplishment is simply being open and being able to provide for others during this hard time.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a Black business owner?
Tamika: It means a lot to me, because we stand for enhancing our community. With that being said, I love that we as a Black community understand it’s okay to think outside of the box, it’s okay to want more, to do more, to achieve more and it’s okay to understand that you don’t always have to expect the norm. If we think more and better of ourselves, other people will as well.
I want Black business owners to know we have to do more, because if people come together, try to understand and support each other, we will all be so much better for it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add before we sign off?
Genia: My father, grandfather and high school culinary teacher, Mrs. Connie Brice were great mentors growing up. I’d like to specifically mention Tamika Carr-Hurley; she is the heart and soul of Fat Sisters. She will probably say I’m lying, and tell you it’s me - it’s not. From the beginning, even though she thought I was a little rusty in the kitchen and didn’t think I would make it, Tamika believed in me. We are so close knit, we basically bicker like mother and daughter, and it’s really cool to be so close to someone even though we’re about 20 years apart. Tamika’s horoscope sign is actually the same as my mother’s, which is probably why we get along so well!
Tamika loves what she’s doing and cares about young people so much that she molded me into this industry. I didn’t picture being a chef until I met her and Mrs. Brice, and I didn’t know it was possible until I saw them in the kitchen. To see women in chef coats really opened my eyes to the possibility of being a chef. From the first time she showed me how to cook, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life, and that moment changed me forever. She’s an amazing person, and she’s the reason I love what I do so much - it’s all because of Tamika.