HARRISONBURG — When Melinda Imani opened her food truck, Cuz & ‘Em Southern Cooking and Seafood, in 2014 her son, Kamau Imani, was one of her biggest supporters.
“He was a staple in my food truck,” she said.
He would always greet customers with a smile, and he was known for wanting to help others in need.
But on Oct. 19, 2017, Imani experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. Kamau Imani, 18, was shot during an armed robbery in the Hunters Ridge apartment complex off Port Republic Road. He had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people,” his mother said, and he died from his injuries at a rehabilitation center on May 10, 2018.
Imani shut down the food truck in 2017 to cope with the grief of losing her son. But now, more than a year after his tragic death, Imani is finding her new normal.
On Saturday, Imani debuted the reopening of her food truck business at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham African-American Cultural Festival under a new name: Kamau’s Kitchen.
“We rededicated the business to him,” Imani said. “We changed the name to honor him and motivate us to keep moving forward in his honor.”
Imani and her family want to keep his legacy alive with the new truck, which is now blue — her son’s favorite color.
“It encourages me,” she said. “It makes me feel like he’s there.”
Imani had built Cuz & ‘Em Southern Cooking and Seafood into a successful mobile eatery in the city. She began parking the truck at Valley Mall for a year, then Cuz & ‘Em moved to the food truck lot at 716 E. Market St. for two years. At one point Imani also served her popular seafood and soul food next to Mattress Warehouse on at 1621 E. Market St.
“My food truck was thriving,” she said, but Imani had to quit in order to care for her son and grieve his death.
But it isn’t the first time Imani has had to overcome hardship. Earlier in 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which meant she had to slow down the pace of the business. She underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in September, two months before her son was shot. She is now cancer-free.
“We’re trying to find a new normalcy here,” Imani said of reopening the food truck.
Kamau’s Kitchen will have the same menu as Cuz & ‘Em’s. Imani will still receive fresh seafood twice a week, including fresh catfish and live blue crab. She will continue selling her popular fish tacos, along with snow crab legs and crab cakes.
Imani is hoping her old customers to return to the food truck as she gets back on her feet.
“The food truck was pretty popular,” she said. “I hope the community still supports me.”
Imani is also in the process of establishing a nonprofit called The Kids Foundation, which will cater to underserved children in the community as well as families of slain children. Imani said the new organization will provide the community with counseling, therapy and meals, which she plans to use her food truck for.
“I find strength and healing in helping other people. That’s what my son was doing,” she said. “He was known for being there for other people in less fortunate situations.”
Kamau’s Kitchen will be open on Thursday at 1710 Country Club Road outside of Arostegui’s Auto Service from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She plans to serve during breakfast and dinner hours, but hasn’t finalized her schedule yet. Imani still posts updates on Cuz & ‘Em Southern Cooking and Seafood's Facebook page, which can be found by searching “Kamau’s Kitchen.”
“I’m looking forward to restarting,” Imani said. “I’m appreciative of the community for their support through our hard times and when we were thriving.”