Thursday, January 16, 2014

Three Sistas in the Kitchen have a family recipe for success

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
January 16, 2014

Sample platter at Sistas in the Kitchen

 Three Sistas in the Kitchen is the restaurant family built and the community demanded in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Zinta Aistars has the story.

Someone is singing in the kitchen. No, not just one person, but two, three, singing and laughing, the laughter sputtering like bacon grease on a frying pan. 

The delicious smells from the kitchen whet the appetite coming in the front door of Sistas in the Kitchen at 2307 East Main, just where H Avenue forks off to the north, creating a triangular island where the little restaurant sits. Once it was a gas station. Once it was another restaurant, then another and another, until a car crashed through the south wall. The ruined building remained long vacant just waiting for song and laughter and the clatter of cookware such as resounds there today.

More than likely Granddad (Leroy Williams) will greet you at the door when you walk in. He’s almost always there, doing whatever needs to be done. He delivers the food for the soul food restaurant’s branch business of catering, he unlocks the door in the morning, he mops floors, he waits on tables, he fries up okra, he tightens loose screws. 

"Call me a floater," Leroy Williams says. Granddad smiles, touching his fedora. "I do whatever is needed." 

He does more than that. This is a family affair, this restaurant that opened in October 2013, and it’s come into being by a recipe of family, love, faith, and a great deal of public demand. The kitchen has been the gathering place for this family for as long as any of its members can remember, and that center has drawn in ever more friends and neighbors. 

Although a great many family members work at Sistas in the Kitchen, it's mostly run by three sisters: Tameka Sims and Marquitta and Mya Williams. Waiting on tables is nephew DeAundray Shaw. 
DeAundray Shaw
"You know, soul food comes from what was left over during slavery," says DeAundray Shaw. He points to a framed text that he takes off the wall for a moment that explains the 300-year history of soul food. "After they took the good parts, they gave us what was left over and we took what was negative and made it into something that is positive."

Tameka Sims smiles wide. "It’s comfort food. Soul food is good times’ food," she says. 

The recipes for the menu, says Shaw, almost entirely come from what his grandmother cooked. "We called her Big Mama. I loved everything she cooked, even the vegetables. I only eat her vegetables."

A bowl of fried okra appears before Shaw as he talks about vegetables, and he chuckles. "I haven’t tasted those yet," he admits, then pops one of the fried okra nuggets into his mouth. His eyebrows go up. "Hey, this is good!"

Food is the bond of love that keeps this family together. The three sisters recall childhood years of gathering in the kitchen, learning to cook. They tell of the last meal  of pork chops and cornbread Big Mama cooked, at age 99. She lived just days shy of her 103rd birthday. 

"We had the best Big Mama in the whole world," says Marquitta Williams. "She was a strong woman, ran a daycare, and the kids were always asking for her food. She had us in the kitchen so much we thought we were in trouble." Williams laughs heartily. "But we learned how to cook. Smothered pork chops, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, candied yams … now we’re the sisters in the kitchen, but 80 percent of the credit goes to Mama, and Big Mama, and Daddy makes the best breakfasts."

As the sisters tell it, it all began with ...


Sistas Mya, Marquitta, and Tameka

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