As Marcus and LaWanda Kirkland, owner and executive sous chef of Q-Zeens, describe the mouthwatering dishes that end up on their customers’ plates—from 14-hour, slow-smoked brisket to pecan salmon to mascarpone-stuffed French toast—it’s clear they’re in the business of doing what they love.
“I’ve always loved cooking. When I was four, I told my aunt I wanted to be a police officer or a chef. I chose the latter, and that’s where I’ve always found my peace,” explained Marcus. “I was raised on a farm in Louisiana and food has always been in my background. I got the cooking bug at five, standing next to my grandfather in the kitchen while he was making sweet potato pie,” added LaWanda.
Traveling abroad in the United States Navy expanded Chef Marcus’ palate by tasting foods from different cultures. Those uncommercialized experiences led to his greater understanding and appreciation of food and its many cultures, which gave him insight when he enrolled in culinary school. At a young age, LaWanda and her family moved to Georgia, where she later attained her bachelor’s degree in marketing while planning events, which is how she became involved in catering. A chance meeting at church allowed Marcus and LaWanda to develop a four-year friendship, connect over food and the rest is history.
“As a chef, it’s rare that you’re passionate about both savory and sweet dishes. I knew how to do desserts, but it wasn’t my calling. When I found out and tasted what LaWanda made, it was like the stars aligned. She made some of the best desserts I’d ever tasted,” explained Marcus.
Together, they started Q-Zeens, which at first focused on private estate catering. Over the years, their business evolved into full-scale catering. Their biggest event was the 2019 Superbowl Tailgate Party, where they catered to over 5,000 attendees. It was during this time they were awarded the 2019 Distinguish Member of the Year award for their work with the National Football League.
When COVID-19 hit the following year, Marcus and LaWanda saw it as an opportunity to refocus their business.
Viewing the pandemic as an opportunity
“We had to shift with the times. We started offering drop-off meals. Our clients can order our food while saving money because they’re not paying us for full-service catering,” explained LaWanda.
The pandemic also changed the way that Marcus and LaWanda viewed catering. While they get a lot of requests for drop-off meals on holidays, they realized their customers wanted their food for date nights or family dinners. Thus, the idea of “Sunday Supper” was born. Every Sunday, except when it’s a holiday, Q-Zeens offers customers the opportunity to order a “Sunday Supper” for two or for five people.
“We want our customers to know that it doesn’t have to be a big event, it just has to be you,” explained Marcus.
LaWanda also saw the pandemic as an opportunity for her to pursue a dessert-focused dream: opening The Beignet Bar.
“We set up a tent in our front yard and started selling beignets. Our neighborhood was big, so neighbors would get to meet each other over coffee and beignets at our house. It brought the community together during uncertain times,” said LaWanda. “I like to make flavors that are unique, so we offered everything from strawberry lemonade beignets—a powdered sugar base with lemon curd and strawberry compote—to apple pie beignets—an apple pie compote that uses the beignet as crust.”
Like many small and diverse business owners, Marcus and LaWanda have faced their fair share of challenges over the years. “When we walk into a room, there’s an automatic stigma of a discount, or low-quality food or customer service. We’re also constantly fighting the perception that we can’t handle the workload,” explained Marcus.
Q-Zeens and Skanska
Skanska was introduced to Q-Zeens last year when they catered a lunch meeting for our Atlanta office. Before the event, Marcus took the time to determine the needs of our office, the purpose of the meeting and understand our employees’ food palates. After our team members tasted their roasted chicken salad sandwiches and shrimp salad croissant sandwiches, they were hooked.
“Skanska called back after the meeting and complimented the food, telling us we did a great job. The fact that they took the time to call and leave us great feedback meant something to us. They then ended the call asking us to cater breakfast for them the next day,” laughed Marcus.