An Indiegogo project to start a line of Caribbean spice blends is the latest project for Linda Aaron, owner of The Steel Pan restaurant in Bothell’s Country Village.
At 28, Aaron’s life is already full of success in varied fields. She moved to Brooklyn alone at age 16, served in the National Guard and most recently, quit a managerial job at Boeing to open The Steel Pan — while taking care of her 11-year-old brother.
“Cooking is my passion, food is my passion, leadership is my passion,” Aaron explained. “I love hospitality.”
If she can raise enough money, she’ll start by selling five spice blends: a jerk seasoning, a tamarind chutney blend, a mango chutney blend, a curry blend and a rum punch blend with brown sugar, cinnamon and other spices.
Eventually, she wants to expand, so that “every item on our menu would have a spice blend to go with it.” She also wants to offer a piña colada cookie mix and a rum cake mix, and perhaps some plain spices such as turmeric and cumin.
Aaron plans to sell the spices primarily in Bothell, but eventually expand to selling in a few grocery stores and online. The $38,000 she hopes to raise on Indiegogo will go toward marketing and branding the spices, hiring more employees, providing sustainability in her current business and funding the first six months’ inventory.
In return, donors will get perks such as gift cards to The Steel Pan, a cooking class, a spice basket or a unique dining experience (which she doesn’t want to say more about for fear of ruining the surprise). The deadline to donate is the end of October.
Aaron’s love of cooking — she developed all the recipes for her restaurant — reaches back to her childhood.
“I grew up in Grenada, and my mom was pretty poor,” Aaron recalled. “I moved to Antigua and my dad had restaurants, so it was kind of in my blood.”
When she was 16, Aaron (who was born in the U.S.) moved by herself to Brooklyn, N.Y. She worked as a maid, ate at soup kitchens and sent money back home to her mom.
But by age 17, “I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I couldn’t feed myself. I went to the National Guard office ... and met a man who kind of saved my life.”
He took her to buy groceries, and she ended up doing several supply chain tours in the National Guard. But she injured her leg during training, and now has a prosthetic ankle.
“I have a little bit of a gimp, but I still wear heels,” she said. “Flats are for quitters.”
She made it to Washington, working at FedEx as a delivery driver and at Boeing as a supply chain analyst at Boeing.
“It wasn’t very fulfilling. It wasn’t very rewarding. It was boring,” she said. Even after she was promoted to manager at Boeing, “I kept pushing, trying to feel connected to the job,” she recalled.
In the meantime, she planned a lot of parties for her friends, who encouraged her to use her cooking skills professionally. Last year, she attended Cornell University’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities — and this year, she’ll be the keynote speaker at the program’s graduation ceremony. She opened The Steel Pan this July.
“It’s been successful, but I went into it with no loans,” she said. In fact, she sold her house to fund the restaurant. “Our food is delicious, our reviews are great ... but I need help to grow,” she said.
Find Aaron’s project on Indiegogo at www.indiegogo.com/projects/caribbean-restaurant-spices-bothell.