MERIDEN — Shamieka Williams and Melanie Mathers weren’t supposed to get along, or at least so they say. They first met one another through Mathers’ ex-husband, who had previously been married to Williams’ sister, and described their initial interactions as “uncomfortable” at best. One night the pair met up for drinks to smooth over tensions and found themselves doubled over laughing together like old friends.
Sixteen years later, the chemistry between them is palpable as they dart across the kitchen of their newly opened 2 Broke Chix soul food restaurant, bobbing their heads as Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” plays over a speaker.
Though 2 Broke Chix only opened its doors recently at 680 Old Colony Road, Williams and Mathers are hardly new to the area, with Williams hailing from Middletown and Mathers being a Meriden resident and Platt High School graduate.
Williams and Mathers did not always plan to go into business together, and neither partner had prior experience in restaurant ownership. Both women previously worked in the accounting department of a car dealership. Williams said a combination her own personal health struggles and the strain of child care on Mathers motivated the two to become their own bosses, turning a lifelong hobby into a business.
“With my health issues I wasn’t able to work as much.” Williams said. “(Mathers) was with her children. She couldn’t be at work all the time, and she was taking a lot of time out of work. So, we were like ‘we can’t keep doing this,’” and we had a passion for cooking for years.”
The passion Williams and Mathers developed for serving soul food has its roots in family for both women. Mathers, like any chef, approaches the kitchen with her own flare and ideas, but said her love for cooking also has emotional ties to a close dynamic between herself and a former mother-in-law. Mathers fought back tears as she recounted the days her mother-in-law would teach her to cook staple Southern dishes she still prepares today.
“She was more of a mom to me at a time I needed her, and every weekend she would come to my house and say ‘what do you want to learn how to cook today,’ and every Saturday, she would come and she would teach me.” Mathers said. “I built what I know from her into my own style, so I carry her with me.”
Williams traced her affinity for Southern-style cooking back to her upbringing visiting relatives in North Carolina, whose cuisine mirrors the menu of 2 Broke Chix. She attributes her capabilities as a chef to her years as a young mother who needed to learn the basics of cooking almost overnight to feed her two children.
Williams and Mathers’ mutually rich background in the kitchen prepared them to hit the ground running in Meriden. They grind their own meat and craft their own recipes, including an original 14-cheese mac and cheese side and churn out housemade rubs, sauces and chicken strips. Also on the menu are a selection breakfast options, a banana pudding dish, empanadas and a list of weekly and daily specials.
Among the in-store, handcrafted flavors at the Old Colony Road eatery is 2 Broke Chix’s signature Chix sauce, a sweet and spicy homemade take on hot barbeque that Mathers mused she “puts on everything.”
Starting a business, particularly a restaurant, did not come without hiccups. Home to just one grill, one fryer and two heaters, and still operating without a website, 2 Broke Chix faced an uphill battle to gain recognition.
Williams and Mathers picked up the slack through a robust promotional campaign on Facebook, which Williams said grew their following and netted them a stream of repeat customers whose numbers grow from week to week.
“We’re building a good rapport with the people in the community,” Williams said. “A lot of people are starting to take notice of us now and they’re starting to welcome us and come back. We have repeat customers, and it’s starting to progress as word of mouth starts to spread and people start sharing our Facebook posts, so hopefully we’ll be able to feed everyone in the community eventually.”
Aside from Williams’ boyfriend Dwayne Williams, who works in the kitchen and is considered a “silent partner” in the business, the duo run and operate 2 Broke Chix entirely on their own, a business model which fits well with their independent streak. On occasion, the two joked grinning ear to ear, they will go so far as to turn down help from one another while cooking up batches of wings.
The limited staffing at 2 Broke Chix may add a layer of complications to Williams and Mathers’ labor of love, but for now the pair are content to take total control of their kitchen, cooking up their own recipes in a style entirely their own.
“It’s just the two of us,” Mathers said. “We’re very strong and independent women. We don’t like to rely on other people.”