The Boot Texan Kitchen in Houston, Texas
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2021 FINALIST
When tragedy strikes, sometimes opportunity knocks.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut Houston down, Angeline Latchley and her fiancé found themselves unemployed and bored, like so many of us. Not ones for idle hands, they started cooking for their friends and family.
“People said, ‘Sorry you lost your job, can you smoke us a turkey?’” she recalled.
Every good entrepreneur knows that a crisis is an opportunity, so what started as a hobby to stay afloat blossomed into a bustling operation that has been a wellspring of generosity and kindness in Houston’s East End. And it all started with leftovers.
When cooking for friends, the couple always ended up with extra food, and started sharing it with local first responders at hospitals and police stations. Soon they were fielding requests to cater parties and events. Opening a restaurant was the natural next step, even if it was the worst possible time to do it, during a pandemic-induced lockdown. Today, their Boot Kitchen offers a full menu of Southern-style comfort foods: fried chicken, meatloaf, ribs, seafood. The staff includes family young and old, including Latchley’s 65-year-old mother.
“It’s a testament to the resiliency of the community, the drive to get it done,” says local Dan Joyce. “It’s a cliché, but it’s that ‘bootstraps’ mentality. We’ve got a very active and engaged community.”
Houston’s East End, one of the city’s older communities, is a colorful mix of modest homes, quiet streets, commercial properties and strip malls. Most of the population is Hispanic, but other residents come from all walks of life: Black, white, Asian. Many work blue-collar jobs at the nearby port and airport, or in the thriving local restaurant scene.
It has proven the perfect spot for the Boot Texan Kitchen, where Latchley arrived with a mission. “I said, How can I be a help? How can I add to the community? How can I make the East End better?” she said.
The Boot Kitchen goes beyond food, hosting “Pop Up Shops” for young entrepreneurs, and “Expos” to showcase local businesses. It sponsors a “Senior Citizen Fashion Show” and “Senior Citizen Sundays,” and recently held a surprise birthday party for a 90-year-old Fashion Show contributor.
It’s typical for the East End, says Joyce. “You’re going to hear that story a hundred times,” he said. “You’ll see it on every corner. Get it done, help your neighbor get it done. I’m a lifelong Houstonian, so that’s just what I’m used to.”
While the pandemic brought its share of loss to the area, Latchley prefers to look on the bright side.
“When in life will you get the opportunity to focus just on you?” Latchley says of the tumultuous year. “I said, ‘I’m gonna start doing it. I want to help people and I want to serve.’”
My name is Angeline Latchley, and my fiancé and I opened a restaurant in the middle of the pandemic! Why? Great question, let me explain.
We were engaged in December 2019 and planned to get married within six months. Well, in March 2020, my fiance was furloughed due to COVID. Now we were down to one income, facing the fear of a virus that was taking the world by storm, our elderly parents were in isolation, and some of our family were forced to deal with the fear and uncertainty as they are deemed “essential workers.” We made a decision to be the hope and hands and feet of Jesus during the toughest times that we have all faced. We posted on our social media page that we wanted to provide a meal to first responders and essential workers, and as a community, our friends could join us by volunteering or making donations. We were flooded with people that were feeling helpless and wanted to do something but were not sure how or what to do. Together, we were able to provide meals for our local Walgreens Pharmacy, the Houston Metro Police Department, St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room nursing staff, Women’s Hospital NICU nursing staff, Harris County 911 operators staff, and many more just to say “thank you, we’re praying for you and we’re in this together.”
Our elderly parents were able to help by volunteering, and our kids were able to help by making cards to our local nursing homes and assisted living facilities that weren’t able to see their families—it was absolutely amazing! So many areas of life being positively impacted! Fast forward a year later, and that effort and act of kindness opened the door for us to open a restaurant!
Boot Texan Kitchen our motto is “We are so much more than a meal but an experience of amazing food, and southern hospitality that will make you feel like family.”
I am a Black woman, from a poor neighborhood, single-parent home and my proudest moments have been serving people—people that look like me and people that don’t. Kindness transcends race, gender, religion, social-economic status, etc. Loss to you will hurt just like loss hurts me. So I choose to be the light in dark places, serve each person well, operate in excellence and integrity, and teach the next generation of leaders to do the same.
Within our restaurant, we have a pop-up shop once a month and we give our children and children within our community a chance to develop their skills as entrepreneurs. Among them are my eight-year-old niece Audrey and my ten-year-old foster daughter Amyah. We spend time teaching them the basic fundamentals of entrepreneurship and finance including expenses, profit, goals, sponsorship, networking, investing, and customer service. My foster daughter hired my daughter to help set up her table and package her products. After the event and balancing her ledger, she decided she couldn’t afford payroll and opted to call a list of prospects (grandparents, friends, and neighbors) to be volunteers! I thought it was absolutely hilarious! Isn’t it funny how they become so frugal when it’s their money and not yours?
At the end of the day, I believe that through COVID-19 the true gift in me was developed. The gift of compassion, kindness, vulnerability, and being the change that I wanted to see. We have within our future Senior Citizen Sundays, giving them a safe place to fellowship and be honored. We are working with the City of Houston to partner for a Meals-On-Wheels program, training and development programs for youth that include business, and healthy food preparation. This has been a journey and it hasn’t been easy but it’s been worth it! I hope that this story inspires you to do something—you have a gift that the world needs and your current or past circumstances don’t discount who you were created to be.
Be the change, by sharing your gift with one person, one family one community at a time.