Black entrepreneurs in NC find success with simple, timeless comfort food
Fried chicken, collard greens, pinto beans, potato salad, cornbread, and of course macaroni & cheese — all staple items located on menus at Black-owned restaurants across the country. Some call it “Southern food,” others “soul food,” and you’ll hear the occasional “country cooking” tossed around too. But in the end, these simple and timeless menu items represent the “comfort food” so many diners enjoyed in their younger life and still crave today.
Black restaurant owners in North Carolina and throughout the country have been able to find success and provide a life for their families as a result of this unwavering loyalty to comfort food. For decades Black entrepreneurs utilized family cooking traditions as a way to make a living and even unite neighbors across racial lines. Walk in your local Southern diner or soul food café and you’ll see a diverse group of hungry residents united by their common love for good food.
Taste of the Triad, operated by Sabrina Wingo and located at 4320 Old Walkertown Road in Winston-Salem, offers “Southern food” through an old-school cafeteria line. Many younger generation diners may not recognize the “line” outside of their high school or local hospital, but older guests certainly will recall “back in the day” when cafeterias such as Bell Brothers, K&W, and J&S ruled Sunday dinner. You literally get to see the food before they place it on your plate.
All the classics make an appearance at Taste of the Triad — ribs, meatloaf, ox tails, cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy — comfort foods that will illicit memories of Grandma’s house.
Not to mention the service at Taste of the Triad is unmatched and genuine. Wingo has built a family atmosphere that guests will deeply appreciate and want to visit again. All the while she has been a consistent supporter of so many community causes — routinely feeding children, homeless residents, and first responders.
Pop in for lunch or dinner and you’re likely to see Wingo behind the line serving, in the dining room bussing tables and engaging guests, or rushing out the door to deliver a catering order.
Travel into the buzzing central business district of Winston-Salem and you discover Sweet Potatoes, located on 607 N. Trade Street and operated by Vivian Joiner and Stephanie Tyson.
The popular “soul food” restaurant just celebrated 20 years in business and even spawned a small fried-chicken focused café next door named Miss Ora’s Chicken. Joiner and Tyson have built a successful restaurant by engaging black and white diners with a unique and creative approach to long-established soul food.
You can expect simple starters such as fried green tomato and okra, fried pork rinds, collard green dip, and fried chicken and waffles. The entrees have traditional items that have been re-imagined by the duo — spicy catfish, slap yo’ mamma ribs, BBQ shrimp & grits, and a “smothered yard bird” with country ham, spicy greens, and melted brie smothered with chicken gravy over rice.
The veteran restaurant operators focus on delivering quality food and great service, which diners will realize, but the downtown location and commitment to being innovative with the menu should also encourage readers to plan a visit.
Fried chicken is one of those comfort food menu items that can make or break your business. Get it right and people travel from nearby states to sample. Get it wrong and customers lose all faith in the rest of your menu. Magnolia 23, located at 23 S. Fayetteville Street in Asheboro, owned by Don Simmons, most certainly understands the assignment.
Mr. Simmons’ small café in Asheboro is known for it’s fried chicken, but its popularity has also landed it on Parade’s annual list of best fried chicken in the country. Simmons doesn’t take the honor lightly, informing guests that “secret taste testers make the decision,” so he has a high degree of comfort in their rankings. Magnolia 23 was recognized as No. 57 in the nation.
Simmons is a local celebrity, knows every guest who enters the dining room, and is eager to meet anyone who is visiting the first time. Black owned and largely black operated with the help of family members, his guests were majority white when I visited. It’s always striking how good food transcends race, gender, and socio-economic background. Food has this uncanny way of drawing people in, lowering barriers, and fostering social capital.
Magnolia 23 has much to offer beyond their perfectly golden brown, crispy, and tender fried chicken. Diners can select from all the classic hits — chicken pie, stew beef, country style steak, chicken and dumplings, and baked ham. They also have a wide range of sides to accompany those entrees, such as yams, stewed potatoes, lima beans, and rice.
I asked Mr. Simmons if he calls this “soul food,” he smiled and quietly replied, “I call it country cooking; but we will let the customers decide if its soul food.”