Episode 35: LaTonya Whitaker - "Dry Ice, Catfish & A Legacy"
In many ways, LaTonya Whitaker’s story reminded me of another expat in Japan, Candy Rowe. Both women didn’t necessarily plan on going to Japan, but in each case, an opportunity arose that was worth making the trip. And like Candy, LaTonya had to pivot from her original plans in order to make life in Japan work.
Because there is no reason why a pastor’s kid, who grew up in a small town in Mississippi, would be running a well-received soul food restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. But she and her husband, David, do just that.
And in reality, to call Soul Food House, just a restaurant, wouldn’t do it justice. Because the truth is, beyond the chicken and waffles, it’s an outgrowth of years of intentional community that has produced a haven for those new to the country or supportive space for those who have been around for awhile.
But before you get to the story of the restaurant, you have to walk through the many twists and turns LaTonya has experienced. This includes realizing that she and her husband were scammed the day they landed in Tokyo, the outright suggestion to pretend to be married to Japanese citizens to get their business launched and relying on their artistic backgrounds to navigate professional opportunities.
LaTonya shares the significant ups and downs in building her life in Japan, but also drops some important advice for those who are leaving home for the first time. She also breaks down how her long standing Thanksgiving dinners traditions ended up providing some of the crucial financial support needed to launch their business. And she shares why she launched the Legacy Foundation to ensure that the Black experience in Japan would be supported and documented.
Like I said, everything about her story is unlikely. And nothing about it is a straight path, but it is certainly worth the ride.
- The cultural shock of leaving her small-hometown to attending college in a different part of Mississippi
- The time her mom brought a much needed food item in a suitcase.
- What she and her husband did once they realized they had been scammed on their first day in Japan
- How 10 years worth of relationships helped fund their restaurant
- The mission behind the Legacy Foundation to appreciate the Black experience in Japan
To hear the full episode, click below or listen wherever you get your podcasts.