Cook for 10,000 People: Bring It On

Article by Liz Titus
Taken from the Business Connect Newsletter Volume 4
On Super Bowl Sunday, Vonda McPherson is going to be a busy woman. Her business, Vonda’s Kitchen, was awarded a contract to provide food at the tailgate party at the Meadowlands racetrack that day. She’s got quite a few mouths to feed – around 10,000, is her guess. Her theme, in keeping with the New Jersey focus, will be “boardwalk.”
To say that Vonda is ecstatic is an understatement; she is over the top.
“This is beyond BIG,” she enthuses. “This is a chance to be on the national stage!” She will go to the site the day before, setting up a complete kitchen. She plans to hire eight to 10 additional staff.
Since Vonda joined Business Connect, big jobs just seem to come her way. She’s catered trade shows for the NFL at the Meadowlands and at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), feeding over 500 people at each event. She is not only a chef, but also an event planner and designer. For her second show at the Meadowlands, she presented foods that represented the connection between New Jersey and New York, such as Thai chicken for Queens.
“For the sixth borough, New Jersey,” she laughs, “I did Italian hot dogs.”
The Newark native’s background includes over a decade in corporate America, where she did a stint with Johnson & Johnson right out of college selling stints to cardiologists. She loved the work, because it brought out her natural people and selling skills, and she also trained doctors and nurses, bringing out her mentor side.
After a period with Primedia in ad sales, Vonda decided to follow her lifelong passion for food and set up her own shop 14 years ago. Her first venture was Shack’s BBQ in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was there that she got to know the staff of the Newark Housing Authority, which developed the West Kinney Street site into City View Landing, an attractive, affordable housing complex of single-family townhouses. When she was approached to open a restaurant offering healthy, homemade food at City View Landing, she jumped at the opportunity. She opened in March 2011, and Vonda’s Kitchen quickly became a welcoming, integral part of a revitalized community.
Vonda is especially proud of the recent Thanksgiving dinner she prepared for former Newark mayor, and now U.S. Senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker. “He’s vegetarian,” she explains, “but his mother was there, and she eats meat, so there was turkey. He even Tweeted about the meal!”
A woman on the go, Vonda plans to open a jazz club in March 2014 in downtown Newark, called Duke’s Southern Table. “The Profeta Urban Investment Foundation called one day, and I couldn’t say no.”