Soul Food Revolution
Both DAT’S Good Food and Simply Soul opened last year and have built up their customer bases one meal at a time.
Sonya and Steve Waddell opened Simply Soul, 4339 South Main St., a year ago this week. She maintains a full-time job as an office manager and waits tables at the restaurant on weekends. He is a self-taught cook who helps create the Simply Soul’s southern-inspired fare, which includes pork chops, mac and cheese, turkey legs and a vast array of fresh veggies and desserts. Many customers wash it all down with Simply Soul’s signature Kool-Aid, a house favorite.
“He loves cooking, and I love serving,” said Sonya.
The Waddells have been married 13 years and have run a catering business that entire time. Like the restaurant, the catering operation is called Simply Soul. Rev. Joyce McCarter, the first lady of the Waddells’ church, Greater Cleveland Avenue Christian Church, suggested the name after the couple struggled to come up with one that used the first letter of both their names, S.S.
Simply Soul, the restaurant, has a dining area that seats about 50 customers. There are two muted flat-screen televisions; one usually features sports, while news is shown on the other. Jazz music is always on heavy rotation.
There are currently seven employees. On the weekends, Sonya and her daughter Joi usually make up the whole of the wait staff in order to give other employees time off. The Waddell’s son, Jimmie “J.J.” Jeter, also helps out when he is in town. Jeter, a budding acting and singing talent, attends The Juilliard School in New York City.
Simply Soul is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, though many breakfast items are served all day long. Sundays have become increasingly popular, Sonya said, as the post church crowd has gotten word about the restaurant. Steve said all of his food is a hit, but the chicken salad is especially popular, so much so that customers buy it by the tub.
The Waddells, who have dreams of one day expanding the Simply Soul franchise to other locations, will mark the restaurant’s one-year anniversary with special menu-item giveaways this weekend.
Like the Waddells, Anthony Westberry had been catering events for years before he opened DAT’S Good Food, a take-out-only eatery at 1521 East Fifth St. A former manager at the food service company Aramark, Westberry first got an inkling that his food was special when he was forced to step in for the cook at the concession stand of the Twin City Little League, of which his wife Vanessa is the president.
“Down at the field, my (hot) dog was named the Comeback Dog, and people are like ‘why you name it the Comeback Dog?’” he said. “I say, ‘When you taste it, you’ll see.’ I have so many people come right back into that concessions stand, smiling, saying ‘Can I have one more?’”
It’s no surprise that hot dogs are a DAT’S Good Food speciality.
“(It) is the best hot dog you’ll ever taste in North Carolina,” said Westberry, who is Simply Soul’s Steve Waddell’s brother-in-law.
There are many other house specialities, everything from baked spaghetti and chicken to vegetables like okra and mashed potatoes. The restaurant also serves breakfast. Westberry said he doesn’t use salt and very little sugar in his menu items, relying instead on, “a little flavor and a little love.”
DAT’S Good Food, which opened in November, is housed in the building once occupied by the Chicken and Honey restaurant, which shuttered more than a decade ago. Westberry used the first letters of his children’s first names (David, Anthony Jr. Terrance and Shatina) to come up with the “DAT’S” in the eatery’s title. The business is a family affair. Two of Westberry’s nephews, a cousin and a niece help him man the small, busy kitchen. His wife also helps out when she is needed.
Westberry celebrated his grand opening by giving away 100 hot dogs; the promotion drew a crowd that wrapped around the building. Customer support has remained strong. Westberry, who also spins records as “The Cooking DJ,” said he sees many repeat customers and newcomers stumble upon the restaurant often.
“When the food is good, people will come,” said Westberry, who plans to add some outdoor seating and longer hours during the spring and summer.
DAT’S Good Food (336-721-1221) is open from 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday-Friday and on Saturday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Simply Soul (336-788-0400) is open from 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and on Sunday from 1–6 p.m.