Twenty-nine year old Darnell Ferguson’s journey started in high school, when he was transferred out of his school to a vocational school that offered culinary arts courses. According to Ferguson, “I was failing out of high school, then I ended up switching high schools to a vocational school. So I went to vocational school for culinary arts and thought that if I don’t like it, at least I’ll be able to eat good… That was also at the time when Emeril [TV celebrity chef] was huge and I liked what he was doing, so that was one thing that really caught my eye… I liked the uniforms, the professionalism, I liked everything that wasn’t like what I was used to.”
After graduation, Darnel went on to study at Sullivan University in Kentucky. Excelling there, he was one of only 22 chefs (only two of which were black) chosen out of thousands to be a part of the 2008 Olympic Team in Beijing, China.
Although things seemed to be going well for Darnell, he still wasn’t making money using his culinary skills, and subsequently turned to selling drugs to support himself. After graduating, he continued selling drugs rather than pursue a career in culinary arts. During his short time in the drug game, Darnell was arrested eight times in three months, resulting in him losing all of his possessions and eventually being evicted from his home.
“The last time getting locked up, I remembered being in class and them talking about being a statistic and how once you get in the system you can’t get out… I started thinking that now I’m the guy that I didn’t want to be… That’s when I told myself that I was going to get serious about something I know that I can do, which is cooking…”
Deciding to abandon the path of drug dealing, Darnell started taking jobs at local restaurants. He would eventually find and lose his job due to his bad temper. “I had anger issues… The big issue was that I was controlled by it… You could say one little thing to me and I would snap because I didn’t have control over myself… So therefore we would get into it all the time… I became so tired that I asked someone if there was a church around here that I could go to. I went to Southeast Christian and ever since then everything changed for me. I started going to church, starting reading about God, because for me, I didn’t know God was real… So that for me was a shock… I wish I would have known this a long time ago but I wouldn’t have listened then, even if you told me… That’s just the truth about it.”
After losing his job, Darnell was unemployed for a year and focused on church, and opening his own resturants. He eventually ran into a friend who owned a restaurant that only served lunch and dinner, and his friend offered him the opportunity to lease his space out for breakfast– a practice called “Pop-Up”. He quickly became known for his work and within months, other restaurant owners were were reaching out to him about opening “Pop-Ups” in their restaurants – one being the same boss that fired him.
In 2015, Darnell decided to venture out on his own and open a full-service restaurant. Partnering with a friend from college, he was able to secure an investor and his dream became a reality in July of 2015. Since then, Ferguson has added two more restaurants and four “Pop-Up” locations.
“The journey is the success. Most people think the destination is the success. Don’t let today be taken for granted… Enjoy the journey… Everyone is so focused on the destination… You have to enjoy what’s happening because the growth is the best part.”
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