Chef and Owner • Cater by Shawnee • New York City • Age: 33
After seven years in New York City’s municipal hall, Shawnee M. Braggs traded her aspirations of being New York’s youngest councilwoman for her love of parties and pastries. “For a long time I thought power and position were synonymous; I know now that one’s power is much more closely tied to one’s passion,” she says. She found her passion as chef and owner of Cater by Shawnee, a full-service catering and event-planning company.
Although she has never pursued formal culinary training, Braggs contends that her savory dishes are on par with any five-star restaurant’s. She is known for her signature rose creations—tables and platters adorned with long-stemmed roses—meant as a tribute to her grandmother, Rose. Her growing clientele includes a mix of celebrities, politicians, corporate executives and major corporations, among them Aretha Franklin, Fifty Cent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Nelson Mandela and Time Warner Inc. Most recently, Braggs catered the wake for the legendary James Brown. “It’s humbling to share in some of the most intimate moments of others and yet immensely empowering to know that I can make that moment one of their best memories,” she says.
Braggs credits her grandmother and mother, Monica Braggs, with being the driving force behind her success. She explains that in addition to their help with the business, they provide her with wisdom and rock-solid faith that otherwise would only come with age. “Behind every good business is a few good mentors. Mine just happen to double as family,” she says. While on the subject of family, Braggs jokes that her greatest challenge will, no doubt, be to teach her young sons, Kingsley and Claude, the ultrameticulous business of “throwing a mean party.”
Prior to starting her business, Braggs attended classes at Clark-Atlanta University and the College of Mount St. Vincent. At the latter school, she received a National College Award and the Mount St. Vincent Community Service Award.