When she offered to make dinner for a few University Police officers, junior Lexi Linton had no idea that in less than three years, most of her income at school would come from her soul food business.
Linton said she cooks around three times a week and charges $8-12 per plate. She makes a variety of dishes from seafood to pasta, but she said her most offering is traditional soul food.
“A lot of people miss a lot of soul food or food they can get at home,” Linton said. “Maryville needs different types of food, because here we only have an Applebee’s … and some people don’t like Applebee’s.”
As a freshman cooking in her free time in Millikan, Linton said UPD Chief Clarence Green saw her in the kitchen and asked if she would cook for some officers, which she agreed to. That night, she got the idea to charge for her meals and the business was born.
Linton said she gives surveys to her regulars, which helps her decide what meals to make. She lets customers know five days in advance through Snapchat, Instagram and group chats what she is making so they can get orders in and she can buy the right amount of supplies.
In addition to soul food, Linton said she sells fake eyelashes, does eyebrows and applies eyelash extensions when she’s home in St. Louis.
Linton’s roommate junior Beautyful-Tyanna Copeland said she knows she can always rely on Linton for great eyelashes or a home-cooked meal when she’s tired of dining hall food.
“Sometimes, I can be last minute, and I know I can wake her up at 2 a.m. with all my lash needs,” Copeland said. “People are always coming up to me asking me where I got my eyelashes from, and so I kind of feel like a walking billboard, which is really cool.”
Copeland said Linton’s soul food being convenient and at a great price keeps customers coming back.
Linton said her cooking skills come from southern tradition through her dad, who is from Arkansas and has family from Alabama.
“He just taught me how to cook growing up, so if we had Sunday dinners, he would tell me, ‘Hey, you want to come in the kitchen and help?’” Linton said. “Surprisingly, my favorite thing that he makes is a fruit salad, but he puts so much fruit in it, it’s so delicious.”
Copeland also runs her own small business styling hair, doing waxes and selling crocheted winter wear. With hair and waxing, she started with herself, then friends and family until it became her primary income.
“I’m from Florida, so when I came up here, there wasn’t anyone up here that knew how to do my hair how I wanted to, so I started doing my own hair,” Copeland said. “Then random people started coming up to me and asking who did my hair, and I told them I did.”
Those curious passersby became customers, with Copeland scheduling appointments between classes. After waxing herself and her roommates last year, she decided to take some esthetician courses over the summer and started taking clients this year.
Copeland and Linton said they like working for themselves because they don't have to answer to anyone else.
“No one can make my rules,” Linton said. “I just get to make my own schedule, and if I don’t want to cook, I don’t have to.”
Copeland said the biggest disadvantage of working for yourself is having accountability only to yourself. She said she sometimes feels she’s missing out on the college experience by working so hard, but it’s worth it.
Linton said her drive and ambition are what have made her business work, even in a small community. She said she hopes students feel empowered to start their own businesses if they want to.
“Be motivated. If people doubt you, don’t let it have an effect on you,” Linton said. “You won’t always have everyone supporting you, but the people that support you, make sure you show your appreciation, even if it’s three people.”