Duluth brothers to open soul food kitchen, following in their dad’s footsteps

DULUTH – The Witherspoon brothers sang and laughed as they battered chicken and threw it in the deep fryer.

Tom Hanson watched with a smile of approval as the siblings navigated his kitchen at OMC Smokehouse, a popular restaurant in Duluth’s burgeoning Lincoln Park craft district.

“His eyes kind of lit up a bit the first time he tried it,” said Stephan Witherspoon, serving the crispy golden pieces alongside a bowl of his homemade cornbread dressing.

“When the man endorses you,” Solomon Witherspoon said, gesturing toward Hanson, “that’s how you know it’s real.”

The brothers are planning to open a soul food joint in Lincoln Park next year.

The venture would add them to the small roster of Black restaurant owners in the northeastern Minnesota city of 86,000.

The restaurant — dubbed Doc Witherspoon’s Soul Food Kitchen in their father’s honor — will serve Southern-style favorites like fried chicken, mac and cheese, cornbread and sweet potato pie.

Hanson, who owns two other Duluth restaurants, is helping advise the brothers as they search for a brick-and-mortar home, form marketing plans and seek business loans. He’s also contributing funds to their startup.

“Why am I helping to set up a competitor across the street? I believe that it will bring more people to Lincoln Park,” Hanson said.

“People get the benefit of trying new foods, and we’re culturally moving our neighborhood forward.”

Sylvester Witherspoon, also known as Doc, operated a restaurant in West Duluth in the 1970s and 1980s. He served as a pastor for years before he died in 1999.

Stephan Witherspoon, who serves as president of the local NAACP, remembers hanging around his father’s kitchen as a young boy, “looking, learning and especially tasting.”

“Now we’re living in these times of division, and we want to bring people together through food and love,” he said.

The Witherspoons will be having a pop-up event Sunday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Peace United Church. Customers can preorder family-style meals ahead of time online.

Solomon Witherspoon said he hopes to someday be able to pay forward the business advice to other Black entrepreneurs.

“We absolutely want to be trendsetters,” he said.

In the meantime, the brothers are working to carry on their father’s legacy.

They make the work fun, dancing and teasing each other as they whip up the time-tested recipes they’ve carefully honed with years of minor tweaks.

“Personally, I’ve always thought my father did a lot for Duluth but didn’t get a lot of love back,” said Stephan Witherspoon, noting that his parents spent years as community activists.

His father was constantly inviting friends and strangers to join family meals or backyard barbecues.

“We’re feeling the love now,” he added.

 

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Veteran caterer comes back from shooting, revives Wendy’s House of Soul amid pandemic

Wendy Puckett, a veteran Minneapolis cook and caterer, is resilient.

She survived being shot with a pellet gun last fall, which put her in the hospital and temporarily forced the closing of her popular Wendy’s House of Soul restaurant.

Then, the coronavirus outbreak came along, disrupting business again. Last month, the restaurant lost its lease on W. Broadway, prompting a move and a reopening a mile away.

“I’m praying this will [turn out] a good year,” Puckett said. “We plan. We work hard. I live one day at a time.”

Puckett has chosen to deal with adversity with an offensive led by love for her neighbors — and good food.

Puckett, 49, works with her sister, Heather Warfield, 47, who serves as chief financial officer for the business. They and some of their 15 employees worked tirelessly for two weeks to clean, install equipment, paint and otherwise prep the new location.

It has ample seating room for post-pandemic days and additional food-preparation space to cover a catering business that has surged to almost two-thirds of revenue in a down year.

A steady stream of customers poured into the new location at 1825 Glenwood Av. over a lunch hour last week. Most asked for takeout orders but a few stayed

“This could be a $1 million business within two years,” Warfield said. “We are at less than 50% capacity. And we are going to [build the business] and do it right.’’

Her sister is back in playing shape, recovering physically from the shooting last November. She had just closed up the shop around 8 p.m. when four young men in a car with a pellet gun swung by and paused. One fired a BB that went up her nose. Puckett collapsed into her van, stunned.

Surgery was required to remove the pellet that had lodged near her eye. It took weeks to recover from the physical and psychological trauma.

“It still gives me the weekie-geekies,” Puckett quipped. “It was traumatic. I tasted my own blood.”

Two adults and two youths were arrested by police in February, on suspicion of shooting Puckett and being involved in other shootings on the North Side, Northeast and Brooklyn Center. They were released on bail and are awaiting trial, as the pandemic slowed prosecutions in Hennepin County District Court.

Without Puckett, Wendy’s House of Soul closed for a couple of weeks. It was saved by $5,000 in community donations and a chef from the Minneapolis Women’s Club and others who donated their time.

“The response was overwhelming,” Puckett recalled. “I met people who helped me who I did not know. Many put a prayer in the air for me. It was unbelievable.”

Just as business was getting back to normal, the pandemic hit. It has caused dozens of Twin Cities restaurants to close. Many others are scraping by with takeout, patio service and limited indoor seating.

At Wendy’s House of Soul, Puckett created a soul food menu that features standards like burgers, wings and waffles. She

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Puckett comes back from shooting, revives Wendy’s House of Soul amid pandemic



a person standing in front of a computer: Owner Wendy Puckett of the expanding House of Soul cafe and caterer in north Minneapolis said she is praying for a better year as a difficult 2020 winds down.


© Star Tribune/Star Tribune/Neal St. Anthony • Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS
Owner Wendy Puckett of the expanding House of Soul cafe and caterer in north Minneapolis said she is praying for a better year as a difficult 2020 winds down.

Wendy Puckett, a veteran Minneapolis cook and caterer, is resilient.

She survived being shot with a pellet gun last fall, which put her in the hospital and temporarily forced the closing of her popular Wendy’s House of Soul restaurant.

Then, the coronavirus outbreak came along, disrupting business again. Last month, the restaurant lost its lease on W. Broadway, prompting a move and a reopening a mile away.

“I’m praying this will [turn out] a good year,” Puckett said. “We plan. We work hard. I live one day at a time.”

Puckett has chosen to deal with adversity with an offensive led by love for her neighbors — and good food.

Puckett, 49, works with her sister, Heather Warfield, 47, who serves as chief financial officer for the business. They and some of their 15 employees worked tirelessly for two weeks to clean, install equipment, paint and otherwise prep the new location.

It has ample seating room for post-pandemic days and additional food-preparation space to cover a catering business that has surged to almost two-thirds of revenue in a down year.

A steady stream of customers poured into the new location at 1825 Glenwood Av. over a lunch hour last week. Most asked for takeout orders but a few stayed

“This could be a $1 million business within two years,” Warfield said. “We are at less than 50% capacity. And we are going to [build the business] and do it right.’’

Her sister is back in playing shape, recovering physically from the shooting last November. She had just closed up the shop around 8 p.m. when four young men in a car with a pellet gun swung by and paused. One fired a BB that went up her nose. Puckett collapsed into her van, stunned.

Surgery was required to remove the pellet that had lodged near her eye. It took weeks to recover from the physical and psychological trauma.

“It still gives me the weekie-geekies,” Puckett quipped. “It was traumatic. I tasted my own blood.”

Two adults and two youths were arrested by police in February, on suspicion of shooting Puckett and being involved in other shootings on the North Side, Northeast and Brooklyn Center. They were released on bail and are awaiting trial, as the pandemic slowed prosecutions in Hennepin County District Court.

Without Puckett, Wendy’s House of Soul closed for a couple of weeks. It was saved by $5,000 in community donations and a chef from the Minneapolis Women’s Club and others who donated their time.

“The response was overwhelming,” Puckett recalled. “I met people who helped me who I did not know. Many put a prayer in the air for me. It was unbelievable.”

Just as business was getting back to normal, the pandemic hit. It has caused

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How To Create a Kitchen With a Soul, According to Home Design Experts


Of all the rooms in the house, the kitchen may evoke the warmest emotions. After all, it’s here that people gather with family and friends, to share food and good company. It’s no wonder the kitchen is often called the heart of the home—and that it’s a key selling point, promising a great lifestyle.

But kitchens also run the risk of being cold and soulless. What’s the point in having top-notch appliances if no one actually wants to hang out and use them? Like food, a kitchen needs to have a certain depth—let’s call it soul.


“A kitchen with a soul is a unique space that provides comfort, warmth, and a sense of peace,” says Ron Woodson of Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design in Los Angeles. “These are spaces that honor one’s personal style or the original time period in which a home was built.”



A few personal touches that both move you and reflect how you live are key to achieving this effect. These design elements can really allow the kitchen’s soul to shine, and to make its effects felt throughout your home. To bring out the soul of your kitchen, try the following tips.

Use materials to tell a story


Photo by Davenport Designs

Every kitchen has a story to tell. Woodson recommends mixing different textures and patterns that complement the existing color scheme.

“We associate natural stone, wood, and other materials found in nature with soul—they add warmth and bring life to a space,” Woodson says. “Luckily, you can still get the same look of natural stone with ultradurable alternatives. For countertops and flooring, I love Dekton Laurent by Cosentino. It makes such a bold design statement, yet it’s ultradurable and impervious to heat, scratches, and stains.”


If you’re not in the market for a full kitchen remodel, add warmth and character to your space by displaying a collection of cutting boards crafted from different material like wood ($138, etúHOME), marble ($89, CB2), or slate.

Laurie March, home design expert and host of The House Counselor on HGTVRemodels.com, says this is one of her favorite budget-friendly tricks.

“They double as functional art when leaned against, or hung on, the wall, and truly step up your hosting game when presenting a beautiful spread for your guests,” she says.


Respect the bones of the space

Photo by KitchenLab Interiors

A soulful kitchen will always emphasize the room’s good bones, or unique architectural touches.

“I always research the era the home was built in and try to pay homage to it in some way, whether through paint colors or decor style,” says Woodson, who co-founded the nonprofit organization Save Iconic Architecture.

March says for spaces craving more architectural detail, add faux ceiling beams, which can quickly and affordably transform the look of a space.

“They can also give you the

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen, peninsular Charleston’s preeminent soul food destination, has closed | Raskin Around

Martha Lou’s Kitchen, which was vaulted to international fame by well-placed soul food fans, including chefs Sean Brock, Andrew Zimmern and Sara Moulton, has served its last plate of fried chicken.

As first reported by WCBD, the Morrison Drive institution closed Sept. 1, following the sale of the iconic pink building that housed Martha Lou Gadsden’s celebrated cooking for 37 years. According to Gadsden’s granddaughter, Melanie Alston, the building previously owned by Craig Bennett is slated for demolition.



Goose Creek artist creates an itty-bitty Martha Lou's Kitchen

Gadsden, 90, apparently isn’t overly concerned about being displaced after decades of renting.

“It’s her retirement age,” said Alston. “But she is going to miss doing business.”

Business barely dropped off following the onset of the coronavirus.

“We did well during the pandemic,” Alston said, attributing the ongoing success to the restaurant’s overwhelming popularity and facility with takeout items such as turkey wings, lima beans, baked chicken and collard greens.

Alston isn’t ruling out serving those customer favorites again. Martha Lou’s will continue to offer catering services and the family is discussing whether to eventually reopen the restaurant in another location.

“If we’re going to have something else independently, we’re going to revisit that in six months to a year,” said Alston, who for two years ran Martha Lou’s Kitchen #2 in North Charleston.

In a 2016 oral history interview with the Southern Foodways Alliance, Gadsden said she started her restaurant career as a waitress at the legendary Ladson House Restaurant on President Street in the late 1960s when her nine children were old enough to take care of themselves.

She opened her own restaurant in 1983 in a converted service station, selling hot dogs and soda pop.

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But Gadsden was eager to distinguish her kitchen from the snack bars around town, so soon switched to making the kind of home-cooked dishes she could create again and again without consulting a recipe, such as smothered pork chops and okra soup.

Still, she admitted her repertoire wasn’t complete: She wasn’t satisfied with her biscuits, so instead served sweetened Jiffy cornbread at her restaurant.

“I like what I do and I do what I like, and if I didn’t like it it would be a drudgery, but I like it,” Gadsden told the interviewer. “I don’t never get up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, Lord; I don’t know what today going to be.’ I get up with a meaningful attitude. I’m ready to go — ready to go. As long as I can go, I’m going.”

Brock’s affection for Martha Lou’s and its owner was documented in a 2011 New York Times column, which concluded, “In the cosmology of Southern cooking, Martha Lou’s is no dwarf planet. It is close to the sun itself.”

Then-critic Sam Sifton’s praise incited a torrent of additional press coverage: Bon Appetit characterized the restaurant as worthy of

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