Sacred is the kitchen of Shelia Johnson, an ambitious Kansas City matriarch-turned-food scene celebrity working to bring families and communities together one meal at a time.
“It has always been the heart of the home. The root of who we are culturally,” Johnson said, recalling her childhood and time spent with her mother in the kitchen.
“I learned to play jacks on the kitchen floor while my mother was cooking. And I [later] learned who she was as a woman — not just a mother — in the kitchen and around the kitchen table.”
Decades later, Johnson, now a mother and grandmother, uses such experience to better Kansas City through Gangsta Goodies Kitchen — a YouTube-based culinary series, website and emerging lifestyle brand, launched in 2015 in response to her diagnosis with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL).
“The scientists say there is no cure,” she said of the non-Hodgkins-type illness, for which she receives treatment every 12 weeks.
“With that information, I was like, ‘I’m going to do what I want to do,’ because this might take me out today.”
Among such dreams: Gangsta Goodies.
“I had this idea for 10 or 12 years. I just didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I had no idea what Gangsta Goodies was,” she recalled. “In talking to my mom and daughters they were like, ‘That’s easy! Start doing videos.’”
Click here to watch the latest episodes of Gangsta Goodies Kitchen.
Nearly seven years later, Johnson has posted a video to her Gangsta Goodies social media pages almost every week, detailing new recipes and celebrating cuisine from every inch of the globe.
“I didn’t even know in the beginning [that I should] put it on YouTube. All I knew was that, when I looked around, there was nobody in my network doing what I’m doing. So I had to figure it all out on my own.”
The series has since evolved beyond casual cooking demos to feature Johnson in conversation with guests that range from entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders to local celebrities, friends and family members.
“I always bring it back to family and food,” she said of the decision to incorporate guests into the show and how it’s served as a platform for initiatives such as One Pair KC.
“They are doing amazing work, talking to teenage boys and teaching them how to refurbish tennis shoes and sell them and make money. They’re mentoring them,” Johnson said.
“I tell people all the time that it’s really not about the food. We’re using food as the tool that it has always been, culturally, and we are adding an awareness component.”
Click here to purchase a copy of Johnson’s holiday ebook — “Ain’t Nothin But A Gangsta Goodies Cocktail Party” — filled with recipes for seasonal snacks and cocktails.
Becoming a brand
With thousands of fans and followers behind her, Johnson believes the web is just the first stop on her journey to share Gangsta Goodies with the world, noting her ultimate goal is to amplify Kansas City stories (and tales from her kitchen) on the national stage as a daytime TV host.
“You see Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart and all of them on national networks — you’re going to look up one day really soon and see me,” she said, adamant that so long as she has faith and community support there’s no reason such a dream won’t or can’t be realized.
Getting there, however, will require even more growth, Johnson admitted, announcing Gangsta Style — the home goods vertical of her growing business, set in spring 2022 to launch its first product: an all-natural kitchen cleaner, branded “Mrs. Jones.”
“My grandmother’s name was Maggie Jones and I don’t know anybody who’s house was cleaner than hers — especially when it came to the kitchen and kitchen floor,” she said, detailing her inspiration for the brand’s debut.
Additional products like hand sanitizer and glass cleaner could follow, Jones teased. A cutting board and a spice and wine rack are also planned as part of the Gangsta Style line.
‘Gangsta Goodies is for y’all’
Johnson and her daughter also launched the Gangsta Goddess Collection, a fashion brand with a focus on creating authentic, African waist beads, intended to celebrate the beauty, brains and spirituality of women.
“What we found, in our research across the world, 80 percent of women are responsible for the nutrition of [their] household. So we thought, ‘OK, what can we do for her?’”
Each strand of beads is intended to serve as a daily symbol for women of everything from safety and prosperity to fertility.
Click here to shop the Gangsta Goddess Collection.
“I literally know that this is one of the things that I was created to do,” Johnson said, adding that she hopes to see the Gangsta brand build generational wealth for her family.
“I tell my grandkids all the time, ‘Gangsta Goodies is for y’all.’ This is an opportunity [to create a situation where] my grandkids don’t have to start at zero. [They can] take it and carry it on in ways that I could never, ever imagine,” Jones envisioned.
“I’ll never forget when [my grandson] called me one day. He was so excited and he said, ‘Gigi, I had no idea that you were famous.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know I didn’t think of it that way. But because you said I’m famous — I’m famous,’” she laughed.
“I see the impact it has on them. … And they’re all involved and interested in their own ways. That helps to fuel and motivate me. The legacy is really important to me.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.