(Dallas) – In 2010, Cynthia Nevels received a call that her son, Tyler Nelson, who was born with cystic fibrosis, was in a Fort Worth hospital and needed a double organ transplant; he had to be transported immediately to Houston. She was forced to sell everything so that she could move to Texas’ largest city to be with her son while he waited for organs to become available.
Nevels said it was during those dark, challenging two years – while Tyler was on 22 medications – that she realized that the only thing she could do to help improve his quality of life was to provide healthy food.
Nevels, who currently serves as alumni manager for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program offered through the Dallas County Community College District, said, “I am a staunch believer that the way I chose to eat helped me get through those tough, long days. So I convinced him to try to eat healthier and better – to try it my way.”
The plant-based, organic local foods that Nevels made for herself and her son attracted the attention of hospital staff, who said it was very flavorful, and they suggested she try to start a business using her recipes.
“I was just making food that Tyler would eat,” Nevels said. “I believed food could be medicine. It was pasta, hamburgers, chili dogs, but it was all plant-based.”
After her son received the transplants, Nevels did some research and discovered that many people were concerned about the food they were eating. “I realized I had stumbled onto something,” she said.
Nevels raised capital through crowdfunding and, in 2014, launched Soulgood food at the Dallas Farmers Market. Her concept featured a menu consisting of vegan, vegetarian, organic and locally-sourced ingredients. Last year, Nevels launched a food truck, which she said is the only vegan and vegetarian food truck in Texas that exclusively serves organic, non-GMO food.
“Our primary mission is to save the planet,” Nevels said. “We serve tacos, quesadillas and sandwiches, but my other mission is for diners not to be able to tell that it’s all plant-based.”
Nevels’ mission featured on national TV
Nevels appeared on the Harry Connick Jr., television show on March 27. The show’s producers saw Nevels’ story in CEO Mom magazine, and they wanted to feature women who were trying to change the world, according to Nevels.
Nevels shared her story with Connick, a New Orleans native, and she made a po’boy sandwich (a Louisiana specialty) for him. They discussed Nevels’ mission and the importance of giving people options to eat healthier and better food.
Nevels said her goal is not to lecture diners about vegetarianism or any type of lifestyle. She said many of her regular clients are carnivores who love her food and choose to have meat-free days. “I’m here to uplift people and have fun, not to preach,” Nevels added.
Social good as a business goal
Nevels said her son passed away in 2015, but even while he was very sick, he was still strongly advocating organ procurement. She added that Soulgood donates 5 percent of its revenues to non-profits, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in Tyler’s honor.
Nevels’ efforts to change the world also earned an invitation for her to host a panel about social good during Dallas Startup Week on April 3. Dallas Startup Week is a free, five-day event that celebrates entrepreneurship.
“My company is all about doing good, donating and giving back,” said Nevels. She added that on May 19, Tyler’s birthday, Soulgood will launch a new initiative to feed homeless children who are in the Dallas Independent School District.
“At the end of events or festivals, we have food that we can still serve,” she said. “But these (items) are not leftovers. I will stay an extra hour to prepare fresh food, and we’re going to serve children from the homeless community in Dallas,” Nevels said. “This is what I’m going to do to further Tyler’s legacy.”
Nevels’ other business ventures are Integrality, a business management consulting agency, and thinkcrowdfund.com, which helps startups raise capital through crowdfunding.
The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program was brought to the Dallas-Fort Worth area by Dr. Joe May, DCCCD’s chancellor, several years ago.
To contact Cynthia Nevels, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.