When she was a little girl, Caleetta Berry’s grandmother Norma taught her to cook.
“I grew up cooking in the kitchen with my grandmother. I didn’t know it would be a passion. Sometimes your parents or grandparents see something in you,” she said.
Raising seven children helped her perfect her skills, and now she’s sharing her family’s favorite dishes with the rest of Cedar Rapids.
Berry opened Just Like Home Soul Food at NewBo City Market on Nov. 2, serving up heaping helpings of macaroni and cheese, greens, red beans and rice, catfish, pork chops, fried chicken and more. With the market stall’s small space, her menu rotates daily, with a few selections to choose from each day the market is open, Thursday through Sunday.
Cooking is her passion, she said, and she’s enjoying sharing that passion with customers.
“If God said, ‘You never have to worry about any bills for as long as you’re on this Earth,’ I’d still come in here and cook. That’s how much I love it,” she said.
She said cooking for her children gave her plenty of practice.
“I pretty much was always cooking, trying to perfect,” she said.
Before opening the cafe, she was working at U.S. Cellular while catering on the side. Then someone at her church, Bethel AME, suggested she apply for the Cedar Rapids Entrepreneurship Program, known as CREP.
CREP, a partnership between GoDaddy and the Jane Boyd Community House, started earlier this year and provides training, tools and resources for new entrepreneurs who live in Wellington Heights and the surrounding core neighborhoods.
The resources are designed to help participants get their new businesses on their feet, such as help with writing a business plan, website support and mentorship.
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In August, Berry participated in a Shark Tank-style presentation of her business plan, and NewBo City Market reached out to her and asked if she would like to be a vendor.
“I love the reaction from people. It just makes me feel special,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, joyous feeling to be recognized by people.”
She painted a wall of her NewBo booth yellow in honor of her grandmother’s yellow kitchen.
“It’s warm, just like home. We have sweet tea and Kool-Aid, just like home,” she said. “I cook, and a lot of times in the midst of my cooking. I say thanks to my grandma.”
With the NewBo City Market stand open, she’s still doing catering, and she’s already thinking about the next steps — she envisions a second, stand-alone location in the future.
“My goal is to continue to give you the same taste and feel every time you eat my food — hot and delicious,” she said.
WHAT: Just Like Home Soul Food
WHERE: NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
DETAILS: (319) 721-0055, Wanttofeedyoursoulfood.com