It’s a Saturday afternoon in South Los Angeles and Lionel Tate is bent over his kitchen floor washing the pans he used the night before for a catering event. His business partner and girlfriend, Michel’le Peete, feeds their two-year-old son who is watching cartoons. She simultaneously packs ingredients and utensils for another event happening that night. Taking breaks from dishwashing, Tate walks over to his son, Landon, to hug and kiss him.
“I plan to leave something behind for my son because when I started off in the world, [I] didn’t have nothing,” Tate says of their catering business Tasty Tate’s Kitchen.
At 17-years-old, Tate, who is now 27, was accused of a crime and faced life in prison. A gang member suspected of involvement in a murder, police detained him for seven months. This narrative is not new. Black people are more likely to be wrongly convicted, according to a report by the National Registry of Exonerations.
“They just told me, ‘Oh sorry, you’re not the right guy, you can go,’” Tate says. “You wasted all this time of my life you know. Something that I was not even involved with but it’s just guilty by association,” he says.
Tate is not ashamed about this part of his life. In fact, he has written poetry about his experiences and performed at open mics after being released. When Peete tells him to talk about his poems and his open mic YouTube video that has a lot of views, Tate just smiles and tries to shrug it off.
“I wrote,” he jokes, “I haven’t done it recently. I really wanna get back to it but my brain is so consumed with recipes and business stuff, so I haven’t really sat down and put nothing creative on paper.”
Tate began writing when he was in a juvenile facility and part of InsideOUT Writers, a program that teaches creative writing to incarcerated youth and adults. Writing became a chance to escape from reality, he says.
When he began writing, much of it reflected the pain that he felt and the struggles he faced. He was able to forgive himself for things that he was not in control of, he says. His latest work focuses more on black empowerment, something that he and Peete reflect and think of all the time.
“It’s really interesting for people to see young black families thriving and making it happen. People are just shocked at the fact that we’re able to just operate it in such a crazy lifestyle and still maintain the professionalism look of everything,” Peete says.
Peete, who is also 27, is the backbone of Tasty Tate’s Kitchen, the catering business that Tate runs entirely on Instagram. A full-time mother and student, she’s also Tate’s COO; she manages the social media account, books events, and also networks with people, takes customer orders and more. With over eight years of experience as a restaurant server and hostess, she makes sure they stay relevant by continuing to build their social media following.
Both entrepreneurial-minded, Tate and Peete instantly clicked when they met while working at the Cheesecake Factory (Tate still works as a line chef there). At the time, Peete created a fashion business on Instagram that she put on hold when she became pregnant.
Peete walks back and forth from the kitchen to Landon’s crying and sighs, “Mom life.” When asked about how she does it, she responds, “I’ve recently took on trying to be more focused on meditation and yoga.”
She then demonstrates the breathing technique she does when she feels like she’s going crazy.
Tate and Peete are busy every weekend catering events, and their Instagram business is flourishing at a fast pace.
When they are exhausted or just want more time to stay in with their son, they turn to an affirmation that they base their business off of: “Nothing ventured nothing gained.”
What started as Tate simply making hamburgers and posting a photo about it on Instagram has become a business that they hope to leave their son. “He’s the reason why we started it,” Peete says.
This piece was originally published in The Second Power Grid, a zine focused on food culture in Los Angeles. Read more work from The Second Power Grid on Ampersand, an Arts & Culture digital magazine based out of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.