Stories from Southern Washington – Dorothy Golson of Southern Girl Delights
Dorothy Golson was born in Birmingham, Alabama and spent time living in states across the south from Georgia to North Carolina. No matter where she was located, Dorothy always loved seeing people enjoy her Southern home cooking. In 2013 she brought this pleasure to the Pacific Northwest where she now leads two food-centered businesses – her recently reopened food cart, Southern Girl Delights, and Creative Catering by Dorothy, which is on pause due to the pandemic.
Like many, Dorothy inherited her cooking skills and an assortment of recipes from her mother.
“I was my mother’s shadow. I would constantly trail behind her in the kitchen,” Dorothy said. “She would give me small batches of batter for me to bake in my Easy-Bake Oven. Once she saw that I had a knack for cooking, she allowed me to play with recipes. And finally, I graduated to the big oven.”
When Dorothy’s mother became terminally ill, Dorothy picked up the esteemed torch and provided for her family as she was taught.
“It was a big deal for me,” Dorothy said of her generational role. “From my experience and generally in the South, food is the center of everything. Mealtime is an opportunity to gather around the table to share what your day was like. If there were any issues in the family, they would be dealt with over a meal. Celebrations happened with food… It’s all part of our way to show our love and welcome people into our homes.”
It was this Southern hospitality and culture, in addition to the warmer weather, that led Dorothy to be the last of her relatives to move West. “I am a Southern girl at heart,” Dorothy said, who fervently makes the trek back home at least once a year.
From a dream to reality
When Dorothy moved to Vancouver, Washington she dreamt of opening a small café. The aspiration was short-lived due to finances. A friend later challenged Dorothy to cater her wedding reception of 125 guests, and in that moment – her business was born. From then on, events fell into Dorothy’s roster quickly catering everything from weddings and Employee Appreciation Days at local businesses to private home events, picnics and more. In 2014, Creative Catering by Dorothy officially launched.
The vision of a café stuck with Dorothy as she continued to cater events. She continued to research on the Vancouver food scene which made it even more apparent that the area lacked the day-to-day Southern food she envisioned. Dorothy weighed her options. By 2018, Dorothy was ready to take the plunge. The first step: investing her savings on a food cart that solely dedicated to Southern food.
Mercy Corps Northwest grant helped business survive
When it launched, Southern Girl Delights was met with sheer excitement from the Vancouver community. Dorothy often encountered customers from the Southeast who would reiterate the relief of finally finding Southern food in Vancouver. Dorothy recalled how, “one gentleman told me he was going all the way to Portland every week to get Southern food.”
The truck found its footing while the catering side remained steady. But when the COVID-19 mandatory shutdowns hit in early 2020 both businesses came to a halt.
With large events on hold indefinitely, Dorothy focused her attention on the food cart business, which was showing better signs of reopening than her struggling catering work. After some time it became clear that the two businesses were facing uncertainty with the prolonged loss of revenue.
Simultaneously, Mercy Corps Northwest launched a COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant to support small business owners who were hard-hit from pandemic closures – in partnership with Clark County and the City of Vancouver. In total, the program offered over $1 million in relief to nearly 250 businesses in the area. Dorothy applied for and received the grant.
“Grant programs like this one from Mercy Corps is essential and I think it should be a priority,” Dorothy said. “Small businesses struggle daily to secure customers and afford our expenses. And then you add in the environment of COVID. We would not survive without community support and resources. This grant was a lifeline for me.”
The funding helped Dorothy become fully equipped to reopen the food truck once county restrictions were lifted. She renewed her business insurance, purchased supplies, up-leveled her marketing strategy, and was able to bring her part-time employee back on staff.
With most businesses now open again, and the majority of the public vaccinated, Dorothy spends most of her days on the Southern Girl Delights truck, where she serves up menu staples and leaves room for creativity.
“Like I learned from my mother, it’s still, ‘a pinch of this and a dash of that,’ but I am also constantly reinventing myself, thinking of new recipes to offer and testing different techniques,” Dorothy said.
One of Dorothy’s favorite menu items that is often sold out is her mother’s Pimento Cheese Sandwich because it brings back childhood memories. Dorothy’s mother would always have these readily available in the kitchen in case Dorothy or her siblings needed a quick, delicious snack.
Dorothy also notes that her Cornbread Waffles are a customer favorite.
A focus on customer service
The recent reopening of Southern Girl Delights fills Dorothy with a newfound optimism for her community and beyond.
Dorothy has seen a recent rise in business – likely due to more people getting vaccinated – and a slight ease on county restrictions. More business means more interactions with customers, which has also brought her a joy as a self-proclaimed people-person.
Southern Girl Delights is currently open Wednesday through Saturday, noon until 6:30 p.m. at 1015 NE 78th Street in Vancouver, Washington. Southern Girl Delights can be found on Facebook as well.
For information on Creative Catering, visit Dorothy’s website or Facebook. She is open to discussing potential events and large orders for the future, and can be reached at (678) 860-1567. To learn more about our Southern Washington-based programs send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org