Being from Memphis, Tennessee, Katmondu learned to barbequed just about anything you could think of: Chicken, mixed vegetables, neck bones, Boston butt rubbed with mustard and brown sugar, so tender you could “pull the bone straight out.” He even barbequed a squirrel.
“Ms. Pearl, down the street — she asked me since I was grilling, would I put this squirrel on? I’m like ‘OK, why not?’”
The youngest of 21 children, Katmondu got his talent for cooking from his mother, who told him, “You may never get married, so [you] need to learn how to cook.” He’s been making mouths water ever since. In that time, he has cooked in hotels, chain and private restaurants, and bars, from Memphis to Mississippi. In 2010 he left Memphis for Nashville and found a job as a chef at a TGI Friday’s. But his hours were cut back when the restaurant was damaged in the massive floods that year, and he had to look for other work. That was when he had his first experience selling a street newspaper.
He came to Seattle with his beagle-terrier, Gwynnie, who was his constant companion. Together they lived in a tent in Nickelsville.“I won’t sleep in the mission ‘cause [Gwynnie] can’t go in.”
Most of the income he earned selling Real Change went to supporting his four children. His oldest daughter lives in Seattle and works at FareStart, but the youngest three are still in Memphis, where Katmondu moved after leaving Seattle.
Before leaving, he talked about his dreams of opening his own barbeque stand. “I’d invest in myself. I’m good at what I do. I’m good at cooking, I’m good with people. And I’m good at selling Real Change.”
“You know, it’s amazing: Sometimes people walk by me and look at me like dirt. When I was in Lake City one day a guy told me to get a real job. I said, ‘There’s a lot of things I could be doing to get money. I could be breaking into your house, selling you dope, robbing you, killing somebody. But I’m standing here selling the paper.’ He looked at me, drove off. Next day he came back and gave me $20. And since then he’s been a regular customer.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
When this portrait was created, artist Kolton Hallwirth was 12 years old and a seventh grader at Poulsbo Middle School in Kitsap County. Currently he is in the U.S. Coast Guard and his family is living in Virginia.