Are you looking for some inspiration? Do you sometimes feel like life is too hard amidst a swirl of failure or lack of success? If so, you need to hear Kiauna Nelson’s story. It’s a story that begs to be heard; a tale to think back on when you’re feeling down.
Kiauna begins our interview in a very blunt fashion, getting straight to the point.
“My name is Kiauna Nelson, I am thirty-six years old and a single mother of four children,” she pauses before continuing. “I am not any assistance, though it wasn’t like that a year ago,” she finishes in as frank a fashion as any.
Although life was a struggle for Kiauna, she has overcome it all.
“I’ve beat every statistic,” she says with more than a hint of well-earned pride in her voice.
The beginning of her new journey started one year ago, when she rented a lot and opened her own food cart, Kee’s LOADED Kitchen.
“It sort of blew up from there,” she says.
Today, her food cart is hugely popular, although her business has grown to such a point that she technically doesn’t even need the food cart anymore.
“I’ve done around sixty to seventy catering jobs in this first year of business,” she explains, “from the county to schools and office parties. If I wanted to, I could not even have the food cart anymore because the catering is so successful.”
So, why does she?
“My interaction with the customer does a lot for me personally,” she asserts.
She also employs two people at well above the minimum wage, and she is quite proud of that.
Born and raised in Portland, Kiauna is especially happy to operate a business on MLK, in the neighborhood she grew up in.
“There’s not many black businesses there anymore,” she says with a hint of sadness in her voice. “So, to be in the heart of the community right where I grew up means a lot to me.”
Although she is proud to cater to a local crowd, she can count on business from just about anywhere in Portland Metro. Word of Kiauna’s prowess over the flame has spread across Portlandia. Her food cart’s Facebook page boasts almost 3,000 followers and her menu – which changes daily – routinely has people lined up to find out what new delicious, and nutritious, dishes she conjures up.
“I buy all organic vegetables and organic meat,” she proudly states. “You get a whole meal for a low price. I literally have people on the edge of their seats ready to meet me there when we open.”
Judging by the sound of her most popular item, it isn’t hard to see why people are lining up at the door.
“Our loaded baked potato is something extraordinary,” she says before putting words to the assertion.
“It’s an extra-large baked potato with fresh cracked pepper, cheddar, broccoli, marinated grilled flank steak, marinated grilled chicken breast, thick-cut pepper bacon, green onion and sour cream, topped with baked beans…” she pauses, her voice trailing off before she begins again with an, “Oh! There’s some jumbo prawns on there as well,” as though jumbo prawns are a mere afterthought.
If that isn’t the baked potato to end all baked potatoes, we don’t know what is. With menu items like this, lining up on the edge of your seat sounds quite plausible.
And beyond her mouth-watering dishes, Kiauna’s inspiring story makes the whole thing even sweeter, or shall we say, more savory.
“I am very, very thankful and so humbled,” she says before she concludes the interview with, “now I’m gonna’ get back in there and slice that brisket!”
Yes, go do that Kiauna, because we hope to stop by sometime and get a taste of it. And thanks for providing yourself as a truly inspiring PDX Person, proof that anyone can achieve anything if they set their mind to it.
William Bessette – PDX People Contributor
William Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over thirteen years. When he’s not profiling Portland-area restaurants and residents, you can find him reporting on national and international travel and eco-tourism through his travel brand, Floppy Hat Adventures.