We had the good fortune of connecting with Connie Hunter Baptiste and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Connie, as a parent, what have you done for you children that you feel has had the most significant impact?
The most important thing I have done as a parent has been to lead by example and show my sons and grandson that they can do anything and be anything they want to be. I have tried to make sure they know that family is everything and it doesn’t have to be blood, family of the heart is just as valuable.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
If we were having a conversation and you asked me this question, I would automatically say I am just like everyone else. We are taught not to brag, to say we are ordinary. The truth is we are not ordinary, truth is I’m not ordinary. A couple of weeks ago I came across some boxes, the first one was full of awards from my military career. I could remember receiving each award, In the other box were more awards, Culinary Arts, Mentorship, Leadership, and Business awards. Then I went to the third box and in it were community awards, magazine articles, my award for a song I co-wrote and recorded that’s on a CD, that won “Album of the Year”.
I used to say I am nothing special, but the truth is I am very special. I put in the hard work, building the clientele that allowed me to run two companies for over 20 years only advertising by word of mouth. I understood customer service and it shows in my longevity. The fact that I still have clients that have been my clients for over ten years. I have learned the hard way that you can’t do everything yourself. You need a team, accounts, lawyers, banks, and mentors to really take it to the next level. Those are just a few of the things they don’t tell you when you go into business, You go in thinking that if I just work hard, keep showing up that everything will work out. It’s not true, you end up burnt out and failing your business. There’s nothing wrong with failing, as long as you fail forward. The pandemic showed me like it did many others that I had not prepared for survival in my business. I had to close up shop, it doesn’t mean I’m through it just means I have to regroup, look at the lessons learned, and come back smarter, bigger, and stronger. I also get that my presence in the community is important. I was in a grocery store one afternoon, and a little black girl saw me and was so excited to see a black female chef, she pointed me out to her Daddy. I know that sometimes in my community I am the first and sometimes the only Black Woman Chef they get to see. That’s important to allow them to dream.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My friends have traveled the world so our idea of fun is a little different. A visit would go a little like this:
Day 1 – Stay up for hours enjoy great local wine and a great charcuterie tray and catching up
Day 2 – Sleep late and spend hours enjoying a traditional southern brunch with i.e, smoked gouda grits, with Delia’s chicken sausage crumbles (made in Athens, GA). candied bacon, shirred eggs, and poinsettias mimosas.
Day 2 part 2 – It’s always about local, we don’t have to do the big malls, we love boutique shopping, place like Three Chicks on the Square in McDonough and just enjoy everything local.
Day 3 – It will be a dinner party at my house with all my family and friends (in the military everybody’s family)
If there’s a Day 4 – We’ll just spend time enjoying each other’s company.
You see most of us have been all over the world and we love the company of our military family. We are ok we just hanging out with each other. I’m a chef, I have always cooked for my family and friends, so going out to eat isn’t a big deal to us. If you meet any of my military friends all of them would have a food story about me, it was always my way of showing love. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have many folks to shoutout, my military/entrepreneurship journey has been full of great things. My Grandfather, James Hunter was an early influence. We watched him grow the crop and then sell them, make his wine and sell that too. He always made all of his Grandchildren feel like we could do anything. He didn’t differentiate between the boys and girls, we all did everything on the farm.
Next would be my Mother, Inez Hunter, she showed us that there wasn’t a sacrifice she wouldn’t make for her children. Owning a home and land as a single mother, keeping all five of us straight. With that kind of strong upbringing, I was destined to be great. I also knew I would go into the family business, the military. Following in the footsteps of my Uncles, Fred, Henry, John, Roy, and my brothers, Roscoe, and Richard, I answered the call to serve too, giving 20 years of my life. The Air Force showed me the world and allowed me to be everything I could ever dream of and more. I finished that chapter of my life at the age of 39 and then the stars aligned (again) and I became a chef under the mentorship and teaching of Chef Joeseph Perrymon. A soft-spoken man, whose presence commands respect, he made you want to absorb everything he had to teach. He’s responsible for training hundreds of chefs and changed the lives of thousands just by giving his knowledge and time. He trained me and gently guided me along a path that allowed me to grow and be the best me in yet another uniform.