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Filling Your Heart and Soul with Humble

STORY BY ANNIE HASSELGREN PHOTOS COURTESY OF HUMBLE HEARTS CATERING

Chef Alicia Boyd’s Humble Hearts catering business came alive on a napkin in 2014. Following an event she and a friend had done together, they knew they had something special. In the ten years since, Alicia has found that the act of coming together around food represents much more than just breaking bread. Born into a family of women who prioritized family meals, Alicia learned from her grandmother, aunt, and mother how to prepare “soul-warming feasts.”


“I knew I wanted to be a chef…[which] came from being able to cook with my grandmother, aunt, and mother,” she said. “My grandmother’s home was open to everyone: different backgrounds, ethnicities – you were going to feel loved, and you were going to feel taken care of. That’s how my family has always celebrated…That was ingrained in me.”


A graduate of Baltimore International College’s culinary program, Alicia shared her gifts cooking in restaurants from 2014 to 2018, waiting for the right time to establish the Humble Hearts concept. After a setback from breast cancer, from which she has recovered, doing events with her then-business partner became full-time in 2018. The catch? Both had other full-time jobs.


“In 2020, we decided, ‘Let’s do this full time,’” she said. “We left our jobs one month before the pandemic started. It was a huge leap of faith, but we had no choice but to move forward. We quickly pivoted the business [from events and catering] to meal deliveries for five Upper Shore counties, and Annapolis. People got to know us and our brand and spread the word.”


Humble Hearts was a thriving operation, which Alicia still finds to be rewarding but challenging. Her business partner took a different path at the end of 2022, at which point Alicia became the sole owner. She credits the success of her business with implementing sustainable policies and procedures, staying true to the company’s values, and not jumping on the bandwagon of every food trend that comes along.


“I’ve been trying to learn how to fail and know that it’s OK,” she said. “How you get back up after failing really determines the success of your business. There are so many things I don’t know and have to learn… You may know how to make great jam, but do you know how to run a jam business?”


Thankfully, she has a stellar support system within the family-owned business. Her sister, “mother-inlove” (law), “sister-in-love” (law), and daughter are all employees.


“Having the opportunity to offer [my family] employment and give them a sense of value and opportunity to bring their unique talents to the table is amazing,” she said. “We talk about what they would want in an employer and strive toward offering them that.”


Her 16-year-old daughter is especially invested in Humble Hearts.


“She thinks she’s the manager,” Alicia said, laughing. “I call her the manager-in-training. She is my baker, and she loves to bake. She also helps set up events.”


Alicia has received immense support not just from her family but from her community as well. Working with the small business development office, the department of commerce, and the economic development office have provided helpful resources for getting Humble Hearts to take flight. Alicia shares that, although she is the sole proprietor of the business, she is far from alone.


“I’ve had this community of people that have rallied around me,” she said. “Businesses go through seasons and changes, and the community has supported me as I’ve restructured and put things in place that we’ve needed to continue to grow.”


Even the location of Humble Hearts is community focused. After her family joined the Ruthsburg Community Center several years ago, they began attending meetings there and Alicia started cooking at its community breakfasts. After attendees realized that this was not your average food, it paved the way for Humble Hearts to begin operating out of the building.


“It was already food equipped,” Alicia said, “ and because we were able to access this commercial kitchen, we were able to take the business to the next level. I owe so much of what [Humble Hearts has] done to [the Community Center] and its Board.”


If it seems that Alicia has a deep interest and investment in her community, it’s because she does. A future project she intends to take on is establishing a shareduse commercial kitchen so that she can support other small businesses, just as the community supported hers.


“Real estate is so expensive,” she said. “I would love to have a space where other local businesses can build and grow and do it in a smart way. Being able to help them scale — by trying R&D here first and trying it in an affordable environment — means that if you fail, you have a community space to fall back on. I want it to look like the United Nations of the culinary world! We all gotta eat…[let’s] close the gap on what ownership and running a business looks like.”


Alicia has also partnered with organizations that have a broader reach, including Cureate, a woman-owned and operated food-tech company and business development consulting firm in Washington, D.C., which specializes in building and enhancing local and regional food and beverage supply systems.


“We hope to build strong lines of community in the hospitality industry,” Alicia said, “by bringing together community stakeholders, caterers, bakers, and anyone in hospitality to give them support, connection, resources – whatever you need, you can find it here.”


Alicia is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences to help those around her pursue their dreams and find success. Prior to the pandemic, Alicia taught a class titled “Food for Thought with Alicia” at the Queen Anne’s County Family Center in Sudlersville to primarily women and mothers, which entailed cooking, chatting, and providing attendees with doable recipes.


“Many of those attendees are Humble Hearts customers today,” she said. “They ordered our meals [during the pandemic] and posted [to social media] how incredible they were. They were so supportive of our business. Of course I want to make money, make a profit, pay bills, and support my family, but can’t do that without my community and them being able to see the value in my business.”


Everything Humble Hearts does comes back to making the special moments in the lives of their clients memorable. Alicia particularly enjoys the smaller, intimate events and the ability to truly customize what they can offer.


“I love getting to know the client, their family, and their guests,” Alicia said. “When we’re able to have the flexibility and creativity to do fun things with food to personalize the event, those are the events I love the most because you build a relationship and can see the care that they have for us and us for them.”


True to its name, Alicia and the Humble Hearts team continue to find deep fulfillment in crafting beautiful food and events for their clients. Offering dishes that are seasonally inspired, fresh and local, Humble Hearts works with local farmers and bakeries to put together true culinary experiences for their clients. Client favorites range from cranberry jerk chicken salad to guava barbecue meatballs to the fan favorite Little Creek crab dip.


“Being able to take my years of experience at the various places I’ve worked and being able to be creative and put peoples’ personalities into the food all adds to the event,” Alicia said. “We tailor the experience to our clients and, because of that, we have built this family of people who value what we do. Not every client is going to be for you, and that’s OK. We have understood that about our business and have stayed true to never being transactional. We simply want you to think of us for every celebration that comes into your life.” CBW

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