Written by Stephanie Leak, Owner of Southern Noodle, HOPE Inside First Horizon Bank, Columbia SC

I have always had a dream of following in my grandmother’s footsteps by cooking and feeding people. This desire is deeply rooted in my connection with her, built from the time we spent together growing up. I have fond memories of helping her pick fresh squash and tomatoes from the garden and carrying up a bucket of fresh snap beans to the house to shuck. When she was done cooking her meal for the day, we would drive and deliver plates to the sick and shut-in and the elders in nursing homes. She prepared and packaged those meals thinking of the people she was going to feed and sharing her unique expression of love. 

I remember her making the best, and I mean the best spaghetti. Sometimes it was baked, sometimes in a pot on the stove, in a crockpot, or you may have had to mix it up yourself. Nevertheless, it was the best spaghetti in the world. Owning my very own food truck, called The Southern Noodle, keeps those memories of my grandmother and her feeding the people she loved and cared for a good pasta dish fresh in my mind. I want my customers to experience that same love and southern hospitality when they taste my food and patronize my business.

In March 2020, I was furloughed from my full-time management career for two months. I had never been fired, laid off, let alone furloughed in my entire life. My family sustained, but the furlough taught me that I could not solely depend on one company to dictate my income. 

Those two months, however, were transformational. It allowed me to reconnect and get closer to my southern roots. I began gardening, cooking, sewing, and simply spending time with my family. I recognized that I really needed a change during that time, and I knew this was the time and opportunity. When people were being furloughed and fired, and businesses were closing, I was inspired to take a risk on myself and begin shifting my mentality from “surviving” to “thriving.” 

I joined the Operation HOPE Small Business Entrepreneurship Training Program under the guidance of my financial wellbeing coach and instructor, Antonio Lynch, from HOPE Inside First Horizon Bank (Columbia, SC). I started the program with the vision of getting my food truck business up and operating. At the time, I had been in management for 13 years, so I kind of understood the basics and had the foundation. But I needed something more to help me get to where I knew I wanted and needed to be.

The program held me accountable and offered me a sense of community. I was able to Zoom with ambitious, purpose-driven peers, much like myself, wanting to start a business but in different lanes and avenues. I felt like my peers (team) were depending on me to be on time and have my homework assignments ready before class started. 

I preach about the goodness of the ETP program to anyone wanting to grow their business or even to start one. September 25, 2021 was my first day serving my Winston-Salem community. Having my food truck gives me the freedom and flexibility to choose my own hours and work on making my dream come true at scale. I only work on The Southern Noodle Saturdays and Sundays from 12p-6p. 

During a single weekend, we have grossed over $10,000. I know I am doing what I was destined to do—passing on my grandmother’s legacy of feeding the community with southern pasta dishes. And I’m grateful to Operation HOPE for helping me make my dream a reality.

https://www.facebook.com/TheSouthernNoodle