by Beverly Aarons
Winter is here. The long, dark days. The cold wind. The wet and freezing rain. And since this is 2020, we can probably add quite a bit of snow to that list. But just beneath the blanket of gray is a golden thread of sunshine — a Seattle cook, born and bred right in this city, hopes to bring a little warmth to the hearts and hearths of this beleaguered town. Veronica Very, the owner of Black’Butta Co., has always cooked but not in any official capacity before the pandemic. She was (and still is) a writer, the wife and business partner of visual artist Hiawatha D., and the founder of Women of Wonder, “a sacred space for Black women and girls.” But the pandemic forced her to get creative about her next business move.
“I pivoted,” Very said during our video conference interview. The in-person events she depended on were shuttered by the lockdown. So after decades of cooking as a hobby, she launched her home-based bakery, Black’Butta Co., in April.
“I was in a situation where we didn’t know what our finances were going to be,” Very said. “And we still don’t have a clear idea of what moving forward looks like.”
But Very didn’t start Black’Butta Co. thinking it would become a business. After COVID-19 began to swell hospital wards at the start of the pandemic, she started cooking sweet treats as a way to support her family and friends working as frontline doctors and nurses.
“I wanted to make them something homemade, something special that they could come home to from the hospitals,” Very said.
Very smiled as she spoke of her cooking journey. Her earliest culinary memory? She was 10 years old, already under her mom’s tutelage, and learning to cook her mother’s “famous” potato salad. A dish that Very said everyone in the community loved.
“I remember learning exactly how to make that potato salad,” Very said. “And for me, the most rewarding thing ever is when someone tells me that I cook just like my mama.” She laughs. “It’s the most rewarding thing ever because that validates our time together, it validates what I learned from her, what we shared and even our bonding experience.”
I asked Very what made her mom’s potato salad so famous. She gave me a look and asked, “You want me to give her secrets?” I had to at least try. But if I was searching for a treasure trove of Very family recipes, I would be disappointed.
“My mom didn’t write recipes down,” Very said. “I learned to feel the way I wanted my food to taste, … and really that was about trusting yourself. That was about, you know, reaching in and connecting with your knowing self.”
That kind of intuition is what makes her style of cooking unique, Very said. But there is something else — Very lists “love” as the cornerstone ingredient of her dishes. I must admit that I wasn’t exactly buying it. Certainly, it wasn’t just “love” that made her peach cobbler so delicious. I needed to know more.
“Well, let me say this.” Very began to address my skepticism. Her expression was serious for the first time during our chat. “What I really believe — and this is what I believe with my soul — I’m an energy person, and I believe [that] the love and the energy of a cook goes into their food. And so however it is that your heart finds itself, that energy, that spirit will be found in the food. I believe [that] with my full heart. So I think [my mother] could [use] the same ingredients that anyone else did, and it would taste different because it was her, her heart, her energy, you know, and her hands, her love, you know?”
I was beginning to understand. For Very, cooking is an art form. Like any great piece of literature, painting, or musical composition, a great dish carries a bit of the artist’s soul.
“Just like any other art form, cooking has the power to take you to a particular place,” Very said. “It has the power to create space for storytelling. It has the power to reach your emotions, your feelings, and all of that is tied to the artist, the cook, the one who held those utensils in their hand and created that experience for you.”
“Therapeutic” is how Very describes her own cooking experience. When she’s whipping up a pan of peach cobbler or a plate of pound cake, it creates a space where she can “give and show love” to herself and others. And it cultivates a deeper connection to her deceased mother, grandparents, and all of her ancestors.
“I feel the soul of me, you know, I feel the very essence of me is rooted in my ancestry,” Very said. “It’s rooted in my experience with my mom, my grandmother. It’s rooted in my upbringing.”
But giving love isn’t just about cooking, for Very it is about delivering a high quality experience. “I want people to feel special,” she said. This is why she has put so much attention into the little details.
“In this day in time we’ve got a lot of people reaching for numbers,” Very said. “How many likes. How many followers. So much is numbers-driven. It’s so quantitative. Very seldom can you look and find quality?”
But Veronica Very is no perfectionist. She believes in making the best of a situation even if it’s not exactly as you would have envisioned it.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” Very said of starting a business. When she first opened Black’Butta Co., she was serving up peach cobbler in less than flattering aluminum pans. But it was what she had on hand, so she went with it. Her advice for new business owners, especially people trying to launch during the pandemic, is that they should “keep it simple.” She paused and added: “Don’t over-complicate it, because you’ll complicate yourself out of the magic.”
If you haven’t guessed already, Very’s favorite ingredient is butter. It’s “a little bit sweet and a little bit salty and creamy,” and it’s the key flavor in all of her dishes for sale: peach cobbler, rum cake, and pound cake.
“It makes everything taste great,” she said. And her favorite recipe is peach cobbler. “It was peach cobbler that created that business.”
Black’Butta Co. doesn’t have a physical location. Customers can order online (by Wednesday) and pick up their dessert on a Friday or Saturday. Last minute orders aren’t possible because Black’Butta Co. has a lot of customers. Every week is a busy week. But Very isn’t overwhelmed or run-down.
“I’ve learned to manage the demand, you know, and not let it run me,” Very said. She added what she considers a critical piece of advice for new business owners: “You create a business that you run because if it’s running you, then it won’t be fun. … I think every business owner needs to know that they need to enjoy themselves. They need to have a good time. People who are experiencing your food are enjoying themselves. People who are experiencing your creations, they’re having a good time. Then you must too.”
Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works across disciplines as a copywriter, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and short-story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also enjoys discovering the stories of modern-day unsung heroes. She’s currently writing an immersive play about the themes of migration as well as a series of nonfiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and the world. In August 2018 she produced a live-action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they truly desired to leave future generations.
Featured image: Veronica Very of Black Butta Co. (Photo: Shanell Powell)