Chef Tawana Gulley of Healthy Soul is on a mission to provide the community with food for the soul and the youth with essential learning experiences. 

Gulley is the self-taught executive chef and owner of Healthy Soul, a “globally inspired eatery” focused on pesticide-free and organic foods in an Afro-Asian hibachi style, located at The AMP at 16 Tech. Gulley’s journey to become a restaurant owner was not an easy one — especially as the pandemic threw a major wrench or two in her plans —  but now she is thriving and passing her successes on.

Catering is something that Gulley has always done, although she said a diabetes diagnosis in 2017 drove her to change her diet and lifestyle entirely.

“That’s when it really dawned on me that you really are what you eat, and so I started looking for ways to recreate my favorite things but make them healthier,” Gulley said. “Before, I never really ate a lot of vegetables, I never really ate what a balanced meal would look like. It was always carb-loaded and learning what carbs really do to your body … and processed sugar, I just started removing those things.”

She began meal prepping breakfast and lunch for 25 of her coworkers — she used to work an office job as a supervisor in the VA health system — hired a personal trainer and started exploring how to recreate her favorite foods in a healthier way.

“I just turned 48-years-old, and I just got the best second wind that I could ever get, and I’m so blessed and I’m glad that I get to share that with as many people who will allow me to share it with them,” Gulley said.

One thing led to another, and Healthy Soul Meal Prep and Catering was born with diabetic-conscious, balanced meals with no processed sugars at the center. Gulley was also operating Black Bowè Bistro & Bakery as a ghost kitchen — which won $25,000 in Discover Eat it Forward during the pandemic — and decided to combine the two businesses.

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Although Gulley’s catering business was becoming successful, she said the pandemic took a lot from everyone — including her. After being laid off from her job, Gulley said she had $500 to her name and no choice but to make it work. She decided to renovate her home kitchen into a commercial kitchen, complete with stainless steel tables and industrial appliances, and continue running her business. She gave away the first $250 worth of food — including her signature shrimp fries — to draw clients to her.

“That’s how everybody who didn’t eat a meal prep found out that I could cook other things, and I literally sold, I know, about 50 of those things,” Gulley said. “I started a menu every week, and then I would post it on social media, and if you knew, you knew. Then it just started to spread like wildfire. So, I started to just incorporate the healthy stuff that I learned how to cook on just about everything.”

Gulley did a lot of “plug and play” where her clients — sometimes celebrities — would give her an address, she would show up, they would go over a menu, then she would cook in real time. 

That is when her signature spice blends and international culinary influences began to shine through. Gulley said she came up with a fusion dish that combines the spices of Nigerian jollof rice and the protein and variety of Asian fried rice dishes. The dish is inspired by family recipes and her own international travels. It is also her most popular menu item (that is not always on the menu but easily requested) at her brick-and-mortar at The AMP at 16 Tech.

“After going through so many ups and downs and people saying ‘no,’” … I just got out of my own way, stopped doubting myself, stopped doubting my skills,” Gulley said. “I may not be where everybody else is or trying to compete with somebody else. I’m just doing me, and it works.”

In addition to owning and operating Healthy Soul, Chef Tawana Gulley also mentors and teaches students through the TeenWorks program. (Photo provided/Chef Tawana Gulley)
In addition to owning and operating Healthy Soul, Chef Tawana Gulley also mentors and teaches students through the TeenWorks program. (Photo provided/Chef Tawana Gulley)

But finding success for herself is not enough; Gulley said she wants to give others the opportunities she was not afforded growing up by partnering with TeenWorks to offer classes in culinary arts. Gulley also said her daughter helps with Healthy Soul, and her son works as a chef in another city.

“If someone had just done something like this when I was younger, and I saw someone like me, that looks like my aunt, my uncle, my sister, I probably would have been like, ‘I want to do what she does,’” Gulley said. “If someone had told me that I would make more money working for myself doing what I have a passion for versus going into school doing something I hate and ended up spending my life miserable and not really fulfilled, then I would have never taken that route.”

Students enrolled in the program spend time with Gulley in the kitchen at Healthy Soul — some for a 6-week summer program, others year-round — following a curriculum that includes financial literacy, food scarcity, food origin, basic culinary arts skills, customer service and food handling, which they will be able to use to test for their food handling certificates after 60 days.

“Once you go through the program, after the 60 days, then we kind of test you on what you’ve learned from the start to the finish,” Gulley said, “hoping that when they finished that we’ll be able to get them ready for the food handling certificate so that they’ll be able to use those skills whether they want to be to start their own business or actually have those skills to go into higher food service.”

At the end of the day, Gulley is just happy she gets to not only share her passion with anyone who will let her but pass it on to the next generation. In the meantime, Gulley is cooking her way through Carla Hall’s Favorite Chef competition and is currently in the top five.

Chef Tawana Gulley can be found at Healthy Soul, located at The AMP at 16 Tech, 1220 Waterway Blvd, and on all social media platforms @healthysoulindy. For more information about Gulley’s restaurant and any upcoming special events and programs through Teen Works, visit

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.