Arvelisha Woods and India Monique just wanted to style hair and eat nachos, the duo said, breaking into laughter.
“It all started with being hungry,” Monique recalled, with Woods emphasizing the “hungry.”
The sisters behind Mattie’s Foods went on a fast in 2015 as part of their mission work. They took what they loved the most — meat — and gave it up to connect with those they were serving, they said.
“Coming off that fast, I had already been in prayer for a life change like that,” Monique said, noting that after the fast, they shifted to becoming full-time vegetarians.
But with a push from family, the sisters decided to take it one step further and pursue a vegan lifestyle.
“We didn’t even know what ‘vegan’ really meant,” Woods explained. “We eat what is available to us, and most Afrian American communities are food deserts … So we were vegan — stuck eating french fries and salads.”
Before expanding their plans with a plant-based venture into Mattie’s Foods, the sisters owned a salon together for 11 years.
“We transitioned to no cheese, no milk, no ice cream, within two weeks,” Monique said. “We were doing hair at our salon, and I was like, ‘I’m starving — I want some nachos!’”
It was at that moment the sisters decided they needed to evaluate what they loved to eat before the switch and figure out how to make those dishes vegan.
How hard could it have been?
“Extremely,” Monique exclaimed.
Click here to check out Mattie’s Foods on Instagram, then keep reading.
A journey with queso
With the sister’s sights — and stomachs — set on nachos, the duo aimed to create their own vegan queso.
“I went into prayer, [asking] ‘God, you got to show me, because I’m hungry,’” Monique recalled. “He illuminated on me to go through my cabinets and use what I have.”
The cashew-based queso was a hit among the sisters’ meat-loving family and church. Realizing what they had was special, they started packaging their queso — Mattie’s Vegan Queso Sauce — which was brought to Kansas City grocery shelves in 2018.
“God gave, yet He would keep giving us more,” Woods said.
In 2019, the sisters took Mattie’s Vegan Queso Sauce and opened a food truck — Mattie’s Vegan Eats — selling vegan nachos, tacos, macaroni and cheese and more.
“We were never trying to open a business; we already had a business,” Woods said, referencing their salon. “But each year, we would outgrow what we set out to do, and God was guiding us to that next step.”
And that next step? More of a leap.
In September, they opened a brick-and-mortar Mattie’s Foods location on 63rd and Holmes in the hometown sisters’ backyard.
Click here to check out Mattie’s Foods’ menu.
Taking “vegan” out of the storefront’s name was an intentional decision, Woods noted.
“We just want to serve good food to good people who want to eat good,” she explained. “We took out the word ‘vegan’ so that we could break that barrier for some.”
‘The Kingdom Business’
As ministers as well as entrepreneurs, religion plays a central role in both the sister’s personal and business lives. They credit God for where they are today, they said.
“We grew up poor girls on 57th and College, went to Central High School — we have zero college degrees,” Woods said. “I don’t understand it, but God chose us to pursue food.”
And in their pursuit of food, the sisters said they have made it Mattie’s Foods’ mission to make everyone who walks through the door feel comfortable and cared about.
“Everybody comes in — white, Black, Indian, Mexican, transgender, gay, straight. We are grateful we can be here for every type of person,” Woods said. “We call this the Kingdom Business because our purpose is to serve all people in the ways we can. God blessed us. We have the ability to brighten someone’s day, just by showing up and allowing Him to show within us.”
Showing the love of God does not always mean verbally proclaiming it, Monique added.
“One of our friends put on Instagram that she was sad, so she came to Mattie’s and felt better,” Monique shared. “Somebody inboxed [Mattie’s Instagram account] that post and said ‘Hey, that works for me too.’ Somebody random! I saw we could impact people through just a smile.”
Monique and Woods’ father instilled entrepreneurial spirit in them when they were young, they said. But it was their grandmother, Mattie, who planted the seeds in hair styling and cooking.
“We would go into our grandma’s refrigerator, and there was not much to eat,” Monique recalled. “But she would create meals with just that. She made it work with what she had, and then she taught us to make it work.”
The sisters remembered growing up and going over to their grandmother’s to do her hair or cook a meal with her. When Mattie passed away in 2001, the sisters understood it was their grandmother who had nurtured their talents, they said.
“It was the years later of growing and realizing — I act just like my grandma,” Monique said. “It was because she instilled those seeds in us, that is why we wanted to honor her.”
With Grandma’s name and the sisters running the operation, the rest of the family did not hesitate to get involved too.
The duo credits their mother as the backbone of the operation, as well as the only person who can keep them focused when laughter or bickering takes over.
“Our children work with us,” Woods said. “It is so rewarding seeing our babies do something we could not have even imagined.”
“And they love it,” Monique added. “My son, he will just have a moment and be like, ‘Mama I can’t believe we have a restaurant,’ and I’m like, ‘Son, me neither!’”