Soul food is a cuisine of the American South, popular in the United States when African American people migrated to other parts of the country.
“It’s just the way we’ve seen people cook all our lives. It’s not even written,” said Tina Archie, co-owner of the Outlet Bar and Lounge at Endicott. It opened in October 2021.
In The Outlet’s kitchen, hot oil crackles as a piece of breaded chicken is tossed into a deep cast iron pot on the stove. The restaurant serves food all week, featuring fried chicken, mac and cheese, and candied yams, but Sundays plays for an older crowd with old school music and soul food dinner. The daily menu includes braised turkey wings, beef ribs, vegetables and potato salad.
The restaurant is a place where black people can identify and call their own, Archie said. It evokes memories of getting together for the Sunday dinners prepared by her mother and grandmother.
“When you’re young, all you have to do is get up, sit down, and eat. But now you have to prepare it. Put it on,” Archie said.
Times are different and values have changed, but Archie said family dinners should be preserved.
“I hope I will teach this to my children, and then they will instill it in their children. I hope,” she added.
Archie’s daughter, Rahkiya “Rocky” Brown, is also her business partner. They don’t always face business decisions like how to promote the restaurant on social media.
“It’s very, very stressful working with my mother,” Brown began. “It’s inspiring at the same time because she taught me how — not how easy it is, because it was hard work — but it’s not out of our reach as young black people to open our own establishment.”
Brown wants The Outlet to be a “refreshing, young” environment.
“We need the youth,” Archie agreed. “We need their ideas.”
Recreation at home
Soul food has a legacy of ingenuity and ingenuity.
“And also an aftertaste of what our African ancestors ate,” soulfood explained scholar Adrian Miller“It’s a creative combination of West Africa, Europe and America told through a food story.”
According to Miller, one of the first documentation of fried chicken in the US came from a reference in the diary of Virginia Governor William Byrd, a slave.
“Enslaved Africans, and later enslaved African Americans, were able to figure out a way to survive and create something beautiful that people around the world love,” Miller said.
Soul food has evolved while African Americans settled throughout the country. as the Great Migration Bringing millions of African Americans from the rural South to the northern urban centers, the country’s food system was still emerging. Delicate mustard greens weren’t as readily available in the northern states as they were in the south, and because kale was hearty and able to withstand the travel, kale became the more dominant green in soul food cooking.
“When immigrants move from one place to another, they try to move to the new place and recreate their home,” Miller explains. “And food is often an important way to recreate at home.”
Home cooking also changed as black communities were exposed to the kitchens of their immigrant neighbors†
While certain ingredients have been replaced, soul food preparation and performance has been consistent for decades. Dishes are heavily spiced and spicy, blurring the line between savory and sweet.
Soul food also uses what Miller called the “funky cuts” of meat, such as hamhocks, oxtails, and chitlins. While these cuts weren’t seen on wealthy tables in the past, he noted they appear more often on fine dining menus these days.
Miller said society’s understanding of soul food is limited to festive foods — fried chicken and peach cobbler — and often misses the much more elaborate part of the kitchen.
“If you look at a lot of superfoods, and what nutritionists tell us to eat — more dark leafy greens, more sweet potato, more fish, hibiscus and okra, superfoods. These are all the building blocks of soul food,” Miller added.
sweet and spicy
Theo and Barbara Felton moved to the Southern Tier from South Georgia and opened Theo’s Southern Style Cuisine in 1995. They served soul food and Creole dishes for twenty years at the restaurant, which is located right next to the arches on Main Street in Johnson City.
“When we were at church, I just thought, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to go back to Theo’s and get some fried chicken,'” laughed the Feltons’ daughter, Linda Osborne. “Even now on a Sunday, when I see fried chicken, I think back to Theo’s.”
Osborne remembers how you could smell the barbecue before you entered, and cornbread once you were inside. People said it felt like home.
“It was really a family oriented place because the whole family worked there,” she said.
The Felton’s eight children worked in their parents’ restaurant. One brother worked in the chip shop, while another did the dishes or manned the cash register. Even when she moved to Texas, Osborne said she would manage finances for Felton’s company and write menus.
When Theo was closed Osborne wanted to save her family’s recipes. She started a line of sauces which they used at the restaurant, including the barbecue sauce made according to her grandfather’s recipe, the hot and sweet sauce her father called sweet and spicy† The sauces, which are sold wholesale, are available in some stores in Rochester and at Tom’s in Binghamton. Osborne plans to release a new herbal honey vinaigrette as well — her own recipe.
After Theo Felton died and Osborne’s husband had a stroke, she started heart-healthy food demonstrations for the American Heart Association.
“I call it heart-healthy cooking, not just healthy cooking, but I want to cook — that we do things — to take care of our hearts,” she explained.
She uses smoked turkey in her vegetables instead of fat from pork or bacon. Her family still bakes food, but maybe only once a week. Otherwise, they fry it with olive oil, panko crumbs, “seasoned very well”. She said the result is still crunchy but healthier for you.
Osborne released a family recipe cookbook in 2016, Theo’s Sweet & Sassy Cuisine† She dedicated it to both her mother and father, explaining that although the restaurant was named after her father, the recipes came from both sides of her family.
Parts of the book deal with their family tree and the legacy of ‘togetherness’.
“Because the food is our heritage at. But the unfailing love part is even more important to me,” Osborne said.
Fill your plate
Osborne participated in the Support Black Business 607 (SBB607) Accelerator program, a course that trains entrepreneurs in business models, marketing and finance. By participating, businesses also qualify for $2,000 in grants.
According to Fabiola Moreno Olivas of the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, an employee of the program, three people have qualified so far.
Osborne called the scholarship, and the accompanying entrepreneurial training, a blessing, “which really helped me find the resources I needed to take my business to another level.”
Rocky Brown and Tina Archie of The Outlet serve on the event planning committee and are responsible for recruiting salespeople. Their restaurant will hand out hot dogs and burgers.
“I’m kind of following in her footsteps,” Brown, who is also a new mom, said of her mom’s commitment to the community. She said they both keep their plates full.