For their first two years in business, Queen Precious-Jewel Earth Zabriskie and her wife, Jacqueline White, chose not to put their photos or an About Us section on the website of Indulge Catering, their Durham-based business.
When it started in 2014, Zabriskie and White were already out in a very public way, having appeared on Say Yes to the Dress in 2013 and 2014, during both Zabriskie’s wedding-dress fitting and the couple’s Raleigh reception. But they worried about how being a black, female-owned business might negatively sway potential clients.
So they quietly built Indulge by booking private events and weddings, earning a reputation not only for light, flavorful fare but also for the personality they brought to the catering experience. They’re both self-proclaimed foodies, so it’s easy to see why they’d be so effusive about the food, but they clearly feed off each other’s energy, too.
As Zabriskie says, “If you spend enough time with us, you’ll either wonder if we’re married or if we’re sisters.” After a couple of years, it was clear that their clients were responding as much to them as they were to the food, so it felt natural to make their names and faces more prominent in the business.
“We pride ourselves on treating our clients like family. It’s not just ‘They’re going to come in and feed us,’ it’s a whole experience that we provide from start to finish,” White says. “People were asking about us, telling us how much they liked us and our interaction with one another. We realized that it was prime time to put our names and faces out there.”
Though the couple’s race, gender, and sexual orientation doesn’t wholly define them, they recognize that living proudly as successful black, female same-sex partners has the power to impact and inspire the next generation of LGBQT people.
It’s positively affected their business, too. Indulge’s highlights over the past two years include catering for Moogfest, Black Wall Street Homecoming, and HBO’s The Defiant Ones screening; they also launched Titanium Fitness Meals, a healthy meal delivery service.
In the last year, there’s also been significant uptick in corporate bookings. This is partly due to referrals, which Zabriskie says make up 90 percent of their business. But she and White also think it’s due to corporate America’s efforts to foster diversity.
At first, Zabriskie felt affronted that being a black- or female-owned business was the reason they were getting calls from companies such as IBM. But she’s embraced the way it helps inform people’s definition of success—plus, it’s good for business.
“It doesn’t matter if they call you once. You have to perform,” Zabriskie says. “It’s about what you do when your foot is in the door.”
As executive chef, Zabriskie develops and executes menus, drawing on a variety of inspirations: American, Mediterranean, and Italian cuisines; the melting pot of her native Bronx, New York; and her religion. As a Muslim, Zabriskie does not eat or cook with pork.
Indulge’s motto is “indulge in one bite, one plate, one meal at a time,” but that doesn’t mean the food is unhealthy. Zabriskie’s personal health also provides inspiration for her food; after undergoing bariatric surgery in 2012, she drastically changed her cooking. And though they say some people assume Indulge does soul food, such as fried chicken or mac ‘n’ cheese, those in the know seek its signature dishes, such as coconut curries and lasagna rolls.
White, a Durham native, oversees communications, client intake, budgets, contracts, and event staff while also serving as Zabriskie’s sous chef, which can mean reeling her in if her ideas lean toward “caviar swinging from the ceiling” dishes. (It’s not a total exaggeration; one of Zabriskie’s favorite creations is an “invisible” ravioli.)
The pair collaborate on shopping and preparing food, too. For the past four years, they have worked out of The Cookery and recently started using a second commercial kitchen, The Kitchen Archive, to support production for their growing business.
But for all their success, Zabriskie says that an event they did at the LGBQT Center of Durham was the one she’s proudest of.
“That was the first event that allowed me to call her ‘bae’ and ‘my wife’ in front of customers,” Zabriskie says. “No one batted an eye, no one [said], ‘Wait, huh, you’re gay?'”
While it was meaningful to be able to acknowledge their partnership beyond business, it’s not what defines Indulge.
“I will never deny her, but I don’t have to come in the front door like, ‘Hey, how you doing? I’m gay!'” Zabriskie says. “I think what a lot of people get confused about with pride is that I have to scream it from the rooftops, but you don’t.”
Still, the pair acknowledges that with success comes visibility—and that it’s important to embrace. They recently shared their story at Student U, a mentorship program that works to keep African American, Latinx, and low-income students in school. They also held a cooking class for StandUp-SpeakOut, which uses art therapy to support children and teens who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
When Zabriskie moved to Durham, she worked at the North Carolina Lambda Youth Network (NCLYN), a non-profit for LGBQT youth, and she’s floored at how perceptions are changing within that community, too.
“Now, when I see a gay youth who is blown away by the fact that we have a successful marriage, that we’re not fighting, there’s no substance abuse involved, there’s no domestic violence involved […] Now that is a whole different ball game. That’s beautiful. That’s pride for me.”
“Because you don’t see it in the community like that,” White adds. “Even though it’s legal now, you have [gay] people getting married, you have young [gay] couples getting married. But you don’t really see a lot of older, successful gay people.”
“Especially black gay people,” Zabriskie adds. “But to think there are some successful, gay, black, females out here? It’s amazing to people.”