Sometimes the one thing you know can be a lifesaver and changer. For Natalie Ramos, it was cooking.
Years ago, this now-woman business owner had been married for nearly 20 years and made the move from Southern New Jersey to Virginia for her husband’s work. Just a week later, during a heated argument with him, Natalie was thrown from a moving vehicle and left critically injured.
In a split second, she literally lost everything, almost including her life. She had grown up in one of America’s roughest neighborhoods in East New York City, raised her younger brother and married at 17. She hadn’t worked throughout her marriage, so that she could focus on their two daughters at home.
“I had nothing of my own and didn’t even know how to balance a checkbook,” Natalie recalls. “My children didn’t need for a thing when we were together, but now I didn’t even have money to buy so much as groceries to feed them.”
As Natalie slowly recovered from her physical injuries, other challenges were just beginning. She received emergency shelter and support from the LAWS Domestic Violence Center. For transportation, a friend who owned a junkyard offered that she could come pick out any vehicle. “It was enough to get me local so I could figure out a job,” she says.
When Natalie got a job and place of her own, though, her electricity and heat were turned off in the winter as she struggled to pay bills. LAWS turned her onto Loudoun Cares, an organization that connects those in need with local resources and that paid for her utilities to be turned on.
“They also sent me food and gifts for the holidays,” she shares. “My daughter, who was in college, sent me $100 so I could buy a Christmas tree for my youngest. I’ve never had to have that before. I had no choice but to look at what I could do.”
Natalie had gone to school for culinary and knew how to cook as a homemaker for the past two decades. She knocked on every door and begged to show people she deserved a chance and soon began working as a private chef for parties of 10 and under.
“Around that time, COVID happened and started shutting everything down, but in my favor, it lifted me up because where it was closing down opportunities for others, it was opening them up for me,” Natalie says. “I had to pivot and start thinking.”
Natalie began offering private chef boxes with everything needed for small at-home parties, including table linens, china and a four-course course dinner menu. She later expanded to offer lunch and tea boxes as well.
Corporations from around the country began to take notice, since Natalie was the first of her kind to do this, and began reaching out. Asurion ordered 250 boxes, Jack and Jill ordered 100 and Delta Sigma Theta sorority ordered 400. “It started rolling,” she says. “I did so well that in the midst of COVID, I outgrew my four-by-four kitchen in my home and moved into a location.”
“At that point, I made a promise to God that my business would belong to him and everything I did I would pass along to help others in need,” she continues.
When Natalie saw that the boxes were doing so well, she thought that people also need catering but still want the one-on-one attention of a private chef experience that so often gets lost when things are mass produced. “I thought, ‘What if I could put those together?’” she shares. “I based my business on doing that, and that differentiates me from everyone else.”
At the same time, Natalie was doing culinary classes and events, pop-up restaurants and catering for apartment buildings and residential communities. While others in her industry were focused on weddings, baby showers, birthdays, etc., Natalie was doing those too, but so much more. “I literally have my hands in so many pots,” she says.
Today, Natalie is founder and CEO of Fleur de Cuisine Catering and Event Planning as well as a new restaurant, Marie de la Fleur. She also has a new book series, Recipe For Life. With everything Natalie has gone through, she’s found that the recipe for living a life that is tied to destiny and filled with purpose is based on the fundamentals of faith, family, food, fitness, financials and focus.
Her daughters and their fiancés work with her today as well, and Natalie is remarried with three bonus children. “My ex once said, ‘You want your daughters to be just like you?’ I thought about it and here I am years later and I say, “Absolutely yes!’”
Now, back to that promise Natalie made to help others: More than 30 percent of her business profits today go back into the community. She hires individuals like herself who just need a chance. She supports local farms, including View of Heaven that employs those with differing mental and physical abilities. She also gives $250,000 on average each year to LAWS, Loudoun Cares, Good Shepherd, A Place to Be and local hospitals, and at the end of last school year, she and her team fed 800 teachers and 500 students as a thank you.
“It’s been a ride, but we focus on continuously doing for others and making sure we’re taking care of the community,” Natalie says. And no doubt a lifesaving and changing one.
Making Roots With NAWBO
Natalie first heard about NAWBO after meeting Erica P. Rowe and Sacagawea Fanning, members of NAWBO Greater DC. Erica gave her some great advice: To focus on where she wanted to be to be successful.
A year and a half ago, Natalie joined and since then, the women entrepreneurs she’s met have become like family. “When I am in trouble, I call on them,” she says. “They are there for advice and referrals. Every tree needs roots and I can honestly say that I developed my business before NAWBO, but it was on unsecure ground. NAWBO helped me build the roots not just for my business, but for who I am as a person.”
Natalie was incredibly honored to recently receive the Rising Star Award. For as long as she can remember, she told herself she was a warrior and was physically doing all the things. But it wasn’t until she received this award that she believed it. “Sometimes it’s not until you have a mirror put in front of your face to show you, and for me, NAWBO is that mirror,” she says.