Above: Soul Food with a Latinx twist.
Nima Romney always embraced the cultures that helped her become the person she is today. Growing up with an African American father and an Afro Latina mother, she accustomed herself to regularly cooking Soul Food and Puerto Rican meals. Romney naturally developed a diverse taste palate in her family’s kitchen, and she began noticing how the two cuisines can fuse to create an entirely new product.
“So I said I have ‘Soul Food with a Latin twist,’ because I put a lot of my Latin roots into the Soul Food that I cook,” said Romney.
By mixing both cuisines that best encapsulate her upbringing, Romney laid the groundwork for an innovative and authentic dining concept when she finally launched Sowl Bowls. The truck roams all over San Francisco, from Coliseum Theatre to the Bayview Bistro and beyond, fusing Soul and Latin food. Romney throws common Latinx ingredients like Puerto Rican seasoning and pinto beans onto items like homemade jambalaya and fried chicken.
“And not only did we sell food but we sold an experience,” said Romney.
However, that experience always comes at a cost. Operating any food business is not easy. But running a mobile kitchen in San Francisco is challenging because of local parking regulations. The cost of acquiring a permit for every neighborhood around the city is sky high and inefficient. And finding a place to park makes the difference between whether or not Romney can serve customers since this depends on the location.
“Parking is very bad,” said Romney.
“You have to be a part of Off the Grid…and I didn’t get accepted my first time.”
So when COVID-19 spread to San Francisco, these issues took on a whole new meaning. With the pandemic wiping out her schedule, it became harder for Sowl Bowls to survive. Large events started canceling, leaving Romney with fewer opportunities to earn income through her truck. And chances to renew her food truck permit were taken away from her.
“At the Alameda fairgrounds, right there under the freeway, they cancelled [due] to COVID-19,” said Romney.
Making matters worse was the fact Romney did not receive grants or unemployment funds. Despite applying, she was rejected. The Small Business Administration (SBA) approved a loan to help her keep Sowl Bowls afloat, but it has failed to cover the high costs associated with running a food business. Fixed expenses regularly cut into razor-thin profit margins, forcing Romney into a tough spot.
Luckily, some events on Romney’s calendar remained, giving her enough reason to keep the truck moving amid chaos. Not even the most moving celebrations in life could be stopped by a global pandemic: Weddings, engagements, and graduations continued nearby.
Sure enough, Sowl Bowls didn’t mind – social distancing with a vehicle on wheels wasn’t as bad as Romney thought it would be. Once news broke around the Bay regarding her COVID-19 catering efforts, funeral services even caved to the taste of jambalaya and red beans and rice. Proving that regardless the highs or lows experienced in a tragic year, people will always crave comfort food.
“And now just certain people call me that just know that I own the truck. And they know that I cook several different things. They call me and we create a menu surrounding their life, their desires. They know.”