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April Clayton is taking her southern flavor to the Next Level

April Clayton from Muscle Shoals is getting a once in a lifetime opportunity.

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. — Grandma's kitchen, a place where many, like April Clayton of Southern Skillet Catering, learned how cooking brings people together and she is using that for a special purpose. "She used it as bait. She lured in her, you know, her family and her company and with food," Clayton said.

April Clayton is the owner of Southern Skillet Catering in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where she has taken her passion for cooking to help those who were once like her. "I was a single mom and I found myself in need of a way to make a good income," Clayton shares. "I had always, you know, saw how hard it was for, you know, moms that are busy, that are running everywhere to find time to buy groceries and meal plan and cook. So, I had always dreamed of, you know, finding a way and providing a service that could do that."

That dream came true thanks to some hungry teachers looking for a different option for lunch. "Through the school system where I was providing lunches for teachers, I was asked to, hey, if you would make these, we would buy them from you. I was like, really? and so I started right in space at the culinary center right over here in Florence," Clayton shares. "I rented permanent kitchen space so that I could come and hustle casseroles in school parking lots.  I actually went and done a bridal show from there, and people actually wanted to hire me to do their weddings and I realized from that point that we were going to need a little bit more space than an hourly kitchen." 

Her dream began to grow and with the help of her husband, they began Southern Skillet Catering. " I rented a little 900 square foot kitchen over here in Muscle Shoals, and my business partner and now husband and I started Southern Skillet Catering there," Clayton shares. "We were there for a little over five years, and we were able to build our own commercial kitchen space here in Muscle Shoals, where we now have a 2000 square foot kitchen space and a smokehouse in the back."

The journey would pay off in more ways than one. "We run a successful catering business. We went from doing three weddings our first year to in 2022, doing 142. We done 142 weddings out of a family-owned and operated catering business that our community and our friends and our family have supported us so strongly this whole way, and we absolutely love it."

Another payoff, getting chosen for a national TV show. "I got a call several months ago, several, several months ago now, and I first thought it was a scam." Clayton shares. "When I finally spoke to them, I thought I told the producers, I said, you absolutely have the wrong person. This is you've got the wrong person. And they said, no, no. We think we think you're exactly what we're looking for."

Chef April made her debut on tonight’s season premiere of Next Level Chef, where chefs from different backgrounds compete for the ultimate title. "I went into this competition with an absolute imposter syndrome," Clayton shares. "I went into it thinking they have me pegged wrong. I do not belong here. And anybody that knows me knows how passionate I am about what I do. And I believe that that's going to be the one thing that people see from me in this competition."

While Chef April is a contestant on a national TV show, her favorite role is being a wife and mother, and while participating in the show kept them apart, she had nothing to worry about. "My husband, my children, my closest friends, and family, they worked so hard to make sure that I didn't have to worry about things here and they rocked. And because we couldn't let anybody know that I was gone. So that was a hard thing to pull off here."

Chef April's journey itself is inspiring, but she shares one final piece of advice "We have been faced with so many obstacles and things that have, you know, setbacks that have happened," Clayton shares. "But our comeback has always been way greater than our setbacks and all you've got to do is work hard and chase after your dreams. Sometimes you're not going to know what's right and you're not going to know what you should do, but in the words of a very good friend of mine, just do the next thing."

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