Rashe Malcolm wants to feed everybody. When people ask about her target audience, Malcolm replies, “Newborns to 128 years old, because that’s the oldest person alive right now.” For Malcolm, 47, who started catering at 17, food has been the central thread in her career journey. Whether consulting with dietitians as a health care patient services manager, looking at farms as an agricultural inspector, supporting new mothers as a breastfeeding peer counselor, or managing a restaurant and nonprofits, all of her work has revolved around helping people access delicious and nutritious food. “Whether you grow it or buy it, whether it is breast milk or formula, everyone eats,” Malcolm adds, “even a feeding tube is still food.”
If you picture Athens, Georgia, as her kitchen stove, Malcolm has a lot of pots bubbling up for good. In addition to starting Rashe’s Cuisine restaurant and catering businesses, she recently launched two non-profits: the Culinary Kitchen of Athens, mentoring local chefs and small business owners, and Farm to Neighborhood, bringing fresh food to people living in food deserts.
We met up on a Friday morning, and as she unlocked the door to the community resource center in the building she recently purchased, Malcolm began talking about her work. Before we even sat down, her dedication to food justice, and the art of juggling work, marriage, and parenting came spilling out. Malcolm, a mother of four who laughs easily, emphasized that she is not doing this work alone. Her husband, Richard Ramsey was in the kitchen, her 21-year-old son, Wayne, was working the counter that day, and her mom was planning to stop by later. Malcolm acknowledged that it takes a loving and supportive family and community, along with divine assistance to accomplish all that she has going on. “I’m going to let the Spirit continue to use me,” Malcolm added.
In June 2021, Malcolm purchased 70% of an East Athens property known as Triangle Plaza, including the lot behind it. She had been renting space there and she decided it was time to own. The previous owner, Isaiah Ellison was impressed with Malcolm’s businesses and community vision and he preferred selling to her instead of developers who only wanted to tear down and rebuild. Ellison developed a non-traditional finance model that he hopes other property owners can use to give a hand up to younger Black entrepreneurs who are seeking the best for the neighborhoods they serve. She pointed out the newly painted parking spaces, painted by a local resident, and thanked the gentlemen sitting out front for keeping an eye on the place.
We walked over to the community garden where sunflowers, peppers, tomatoes and kale are growing on what used to be a vacant lot. Though Malcolm admitted that she doesn’t do the gardening, and the food from this lot doesn’t go to the restaurant, the small plants are signs of hope for a healthier community. Broderick Flanigan, whose art studio is in Triangle Plaza, works with volunteers to tend to the garden. Malcolm shared her long term vision to build a small grocery store on the lot with space for another chef to start a farm-to-table restaurant. In January, Farm to Neighborhood plans to launch a mobile grocery store to bring healthy and affordable fresh food into communities with limited access to nutritious choices.
Malcolm checked on the community pantry and refrigerator behind her restaurant with the words “Free Food” spray-painted outside. Anyone can take what they need, day or night, without judgment or a need to prove their need. With a 47% poverty rate in Athens, and housing and food prices going up, her commitment to helping people get a good meal in people’s bellies has Malcolm partnering with schools, summer camps, the Council on Aging, and people serving unhoused residents.
“Sometimes that hot meal is the only meal they may get in a day, so I make sure it sticks to the gut.” Malcolm knows that hunger can come in all forms and she doesn’t judge anyone that comes seeking a hot plate. “After COVID hit, you’d be surprised at some of the people who came to us for a meal.”
People around Athens look to Rashe’s for good food and inspiration. When Bonnie Osei-Frimpong was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a big crowd, she called on Rashe’s catering services. When Lora Smothers hosts Joy Village camps, she hires Rashe to prepare some of the meals, both for the quality and as a way to celebrate African diaspora cooking. There was a sense of community pride last June when Malcolm purchased a large share of Triangle Plaza. “It was a Juneteenth miracle,” Smothers says.
Take one bite of her jerk chicken on a steaming bed of beans and rice and you’ll be happy to play a small part in dreams becoming reality. Follow it with a mouthful of collard greens and aromatic macaroni and cheese, and you might just believe the world can be a better place. Malcolm also offers vegan options to serve all diets. Her portions are generous and affordable, so share your meal with a loved one, or save some for later.