“My name is Sophia J Crawford and I was born in Kingston, Jamaica.”
She begins the late afternoon interview without an introduction. The tone is serious, but the spark in her eyes betrays her, as the smile breaks onto her face.
She’s been at Fulton Street from the beginning, arriving every shift before the sun, baking tray after tray of hand-rolled biscuits, and anchoring the kitchen in cleanliness and attention to detail. Her laughter and her music often fill the back of house, and the attentive team member can catch her singing along as well.
Miss Sophia gives out hugs, advice, and cautions with a spirit of care and compassion that she learned from her great grandmother in Jamaica.
“She took me from my mom when I was three, and I was spoiled as the first great granddaughter. I’m a loving and respectful person because of the values she instilled in me. ‘No person is an island, we don’t do this alone, we need each other.’ She taught me that…she was always working. I love working and don’t like sitting down. I live by the things she taught me, even little things like you go to the restroom and get your drink before you go to church, because they’ll be no getting up and interrupting the service.”
Those values took shape at an early age, including her obsession with cleanliness. She wouldn’t walk barefooted, and wore shoes constantly in order to avoid dirt. “I’m a clean freak. I stayed on my bed instead of the floor so I wouldn’t get dirty.”
She lost her great grandmother when she was fifteen, and is still impacted everyday in her work by what she taught her. “Don’t take your job for granted. I work to please God first and give it my all.”
Sophia started traveling back and forth to the U.S. through a hospitality program in the 2000s, doing work on farms, and landed a job in Indiana as a housekeeper. She jokes that she doesn’t miss Jamaica much, “because everywhere you turn around here there’s a Jamaican. I’d rather be cold than hot!”
Her two daughters were already in the U.S., and it was the arrival of her grandson, King, that inspired the move to NYC to help with the family.
Soon after, on the job at a local business, she received second and third degree burns in a horrible accident that wasn’t her fault. Forced to spend the night in a Manhattan burn unit for seven months, the situation grew worse as she was forced to move, and financial burdens ruined her credit.
Sophia is honest about the physical and emotional pain of the experience, and the healing that is still ongoing from it. “It put me in a spot where I’m dealing with PTSD…I was angry…but I’m much more calm now, and I look at life in a different way, because I could’ve lost it.”
She views her story as one of hope and perseverance, and trust in God. “I would not be where I am without God. The bumps in my road, I think about how he has seen me through. Don’t think about the past, think about the future. If we don’t go through rough times, we don’t know our strength…they can make you stronger, if you let it. Some people don’t know their values until they go through the rough times.”
Applying those lessons, she works full-time and takes night classes to earn a GED, her eyes set on becoming an assistant nurse. Sophia’s heart is to serve and care for cancer patients, particularly children and seniors.
In five years, she hopes to be married (or sooner!), and desires to keep going in her education, because she loves learning new things, and wouldn’t mind owning a small business with one of her daughters. “New stuff makes the adventure nice,” she says.
It’s fitting that her journey landed at Chick-fil-A, because her first meal in the U.S. was at a Chick-fil-A in the Atlanta airport. “It was wonderful. I didn’t know anything about waffle fries.”
Sophia discovered 144 Fulton Street through a career center called Workforce1.“The values of Truett Cathy drew me in…he believed in good things and was very wise. Off on Sundays to go to church means a lot to me. It’s a nice place to work. The directors are down to earth, not stuck up, so it’s a breath of fresh air compared to other places. And the food is out of this world.”
Sophia is responsible for much of that food in the kitchen, but is best known for her biscuits. She shares that the secret to great ones isn’t that hard and springs from lessons learned in her great grandmother’s home, lessons that apply to so much more than food.
“Love what you do and do it with love. We have a saying back home in Jamaica: the way you feel when you’re cooking is how the food comes out. I come in with an attitude of doing my best and love, and it comes out in the biscuits.”