Austin is getting a taste of Gullah Geechee and Creole cuisines with new food stand L.E. Meals, courtesy of owner and chef Alexandria Hollowell. The dishes are available for pickup and delivery from 4305 Red River Street in Hancock through online orders.
Hollowell wanted to focus on Gullah Geechee and New Orleans Creole fare, because it’s what she knows best. Her mother is from South Carolina, an area steeped with the Gullah Geechee culture, and her father is from New Orleans with a Creole history. “I learned who I was in our culture through our food because that was one prominent thing” in both of her parents’ houses, she said. She was born and raised in Houston, and spent some time in Jacksonville.
The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of West and Central Africans who were brought to the southeastern states as slaves starting in the 1700s, and settled in the coastal corridor after the abolition of slavery. The term Gullah is used more often in North and South Carolina, with Geechee in Georgia and Florida.
As for Gullah Geechee cuisine, Hollowell described it as a mixture of Caribbean and Creole foods. That leads to fish-based dishes with more rice and freshwater seafood, as compared to Creole in New Orleans, which features more fried foods, pasta, and grits, as well as chicken, beef, and “more oysters, more drinks,” she laughed.
“I just want to educate people through their palates, on the Gullah Geechee and New Orleans cultures,” Hollowell said, “and I want people to help keep it alive.” L.E.’s Gullah Geechee alfredo is made with jumbo lump crab meat (the Gullah influence) with andouille sausage (the New Orleans nod), and the sauce is more nut-based. The NOLA shrimp and grits is made with yellow organic raw polenta and a family recipe roux, both from the Gullah side. A newer dish on the menu is the Gullah brunch (available at all times) made with fish and vegetable-based grits topped with an over-easy egg, fried catfish and shrimp, and a kale chipotle aioli sauce (another Gullah aspect).
Before fully opening L.E. Meals this year, Hollowell worked at a corporate entertainment job, but knew she wanted to run her own food business. She was in the process of slowly gearing up to launch the food stand when she was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, she received all of her L.E. marketing materials on the very day that she lost her job. “Maybe this is not a coincidence,” Hollowell thought, “maybe this is some sign that this is what I need to run with.” (The name is an abbreviation of her brand title, Lavish Endeavors, which she used for previous entertainment jobs.)
L.E. Meals began in March, starting off by selling jarred desserts outside of her home with the help of her partner and L.E. Meals CFO Jonathan Tegegne. The organic desserts were “something I was more confident in,” she said. She used sustainable mason jars so that they were reusable. Customers even returned their clean jars without being asked to.
There are three desserts meant to hit three different flavor cravings: the “zesty” Key Lime East, the fruity Banana Nana (with no actual sliced bananas), and the chocolate Melanin Goddess. Regarding the last of the trio, Hollowell said: “I’m a black, African-American woman. And I wanted some type of representation of me. I felt like it was such an uplifting connotation to African-American women.”
There is a non-jarred dessert option, a peanut brittle named after Hollowell’s brother who passed away in early July. “I have to represent my brother,” she said. “He was so young. I just feel like he didn’t live long enough to create a legend.” This was her way of honoring him.
To further educate people on what Gullah Geechee culture is beyond the food, Hollowell is working on building up a miniature museum at her home. “It’s a dying breed and culture,” she explained, “I did not really realize how much people didn’t know about it.” She envisions the space functioning as a walk-through area while people wait to pick up their food orders, featuring her family history and objects. She’s hoping it’ll be done in two months.
Another potential future plan includes starting a supper club dinner series hosted in her home. “That is where the connections really are made, when people can have good food, good conversation, and good energy, Hollowell said, adding, “I want people to feel the same way that my family feels when we eat the food, whether you feel surprised, or you’re going through something, I want my food to be able to help people make connections in their life.”
Until then, L.E. hours are from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for delivery and curbside pickups. Only orders over $100 are accepted on Sunday and Monday. Orders are placed through its website, with payments via the website or several mobile payment services including Venmo and Zelle. Larger orders are accepted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Same day orders can be placed within a two-hour ready window.