Hidden Figures  

We celebrate and honor Black History Month and believe it’s important to acknowledge the many ways Black Americans have made history. This month, we spotlight Hidden Figures, past and present, who have made significant contributions in food and deserve celebration! 

Chef George (Crum) Speck (1824-1914)
Grab a snack and follow along—first, we highlight the accidental invention of the potato chip by Chef George Crum in 1853. To appease a disgruntled customer who wanted crispier fries, George dropped thinly sliced potatoes in hot oil and the potato chip was born. Think of George the next time you reach for one of the most popular snacks of all time. We can only wonder what he would think of all the chip flavors available today. 

Lloyd Hall (1894-1971)
One of our heroes is food chemist, Lloyd Hall whose hometown is Elgin, IL. Lloyd was a pioneer in the food industry and invented ways to keep food fresher and better tasting for longer. His work still impacts the food industry, and many of his same methods are used to preserve meats, bakery items, other foods and cosmetics today. Lloyd was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for revolutionizing food preservation. We have Lloyd to thank for changing the way we savor flavor!

Frederick McKinley Jones (1893-1961)
As an inventor, Frederick McKinley Jones changed the way we store food. One day, he thought up a system that could keep perishable food cool while in the car. This idea led to a patent (one of an eventual 60+ patents) for a vehicular refrigeration system. The “King of Cool” changed how we can extend the life of seasonal foods and make fresh produce accessible across the country, as well as transporting lifesaving supplies such as blood and medicine. Frederick was the first African American to be awarded the National Medal of Technology. 

Sara Thompson
In the 1960’s, food scientist and quality control specialist at Stouffer’s, Sara Thompson worked alongside NASA to develop food for astronauts. In preparation for the Apollo Moon landing, she was tasked with ensuring food that the astronauts ate in quarantine was easy to prepare and free of bacteria or other germs that could contaminate their research. This was where Stouffer’s microwave meals were born. Inventing quick, easy-to-serve meals revolutionized food preparation. Sara’s contributions to food safety and research raised the standards that are used today. 

Michele Hoskins
In the early 1980s, Chicagoan Michele Hoskins inherited a secret family recipe and delicacy now known as Michele’s Honey Crème Syrup. The pancake syrup became the talk of the neighborhood, and soon Michele began to manufacture her specialty breakfast syrups in the basement of her mother’s home. Michele secured the top two largest retail chains in the Chicagoland area, and it snowballed into 400+ retail chains. It was Michele’s determination to leave a legacy for her daughters, as well as for her family and other Black women-owned businesses. Today, Michele’s Foods can be found in more than 8,000 stores nationwide.

Danielle Marshall
Local Chicagoan Danielle Marshall founded Danie’s Natural Juice Blends, a juice movement inspired by her own personal history. In 2011, Danie found out that she was pre-diabetic, which was a catalyst for her to transform her diet. Her delicious life-changing passion was born! Danie’s Natural Juices can be found at local retailers such as Mariano’s and Bizios Market, along with smaller boutique locations throughout Chicagoland. We’re grateful that Danie is contributing to the health journey of others in significant and impactful ways!

Chef Mariya Moore-Russell
Chef Mariya Moore-Russell is a Chicagoan who became the first Black woman to lead a Michelin-star kitchen in 2019. She is the previous culinary engine behind Kikko, an omakase restaurant underneath Japanese-inspired bar Kumiko, and the Michelin-starred Oriole. After a return to the Midwest in 2022, she launched a series of pop-up dinners in metro Detroit early last year. Now, Chef Mariya will give locals a taste of her cooking with a series of pop-ups in Chicago this spring and summer called Connie’s Underground. It represents her journey to nourish each diner and chef. We say, yes Chef! 

Anthony & Janique Edwards
Brooklyn transplants, Anthony and Janique Edwards, had no means to cook or store food when they moved to New York City. They turned this problem into a passion for elevating and celebrating Black food and businesses in their neighborhood. In 2016, they founded their company EatOkra and launched an app similar to UberEats that now connects consumers to over 9,500 Black-owned restaurants, eateries, caterers and more across the U.S. 

They continue blazing trails by providing grants to Black woman-owned food businesses, which benefits and introduces these communities to a rich food culture. We celebrate the Edwards for their excellence and commitment to creating equitable spaces in food industry technology. Learn more by downloading the EatOkra app or visiting their website.

Tiana Conley
Our neighbor Chicagoan, Tiana Conley, serves as the Vice President of Global Chocolate at Mars. In 2023, Tiana spearheaded a global initiative with Dove Galaxy (owned by Mars) to empower women in cocoa growing communities in different regions around the world and to ensure the thriving of one million people in these communities. Tiana was honored at the Black Women in Food Summit in 2023 for her work contributing to a more sustainable and inclusive food system in the U.S. and across the globe. 

Maame Boakye & Nina Oduro (Present)
Founded by Maame Boakye and Nina Oduro, Black Women in Food is a Dine Diaspora initiative that connects people with African diaspora food culture and addresses the lack of opportunities for Black women in food-focused careers. They host the Black Women in Food Awards to celebrate Black women who have made significant contributions to the food and beverage industry. Additionally, they launched the Black Women in Food Summit that serves as a gathering place for Black women in the food industry. To learn more, visit their website!

About the author
Julia Bates is a Project Manager at Esrock Partners, a food marketing agency located near Chicago, Illinois that specializes in the food, beverage and foodservice industries and their current market trends. For a close-up of our capabilities, see our services

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