April 17, 2024

CPS

Travel Adventure

Appetite grows for southern soul food in Canadian border city

5 min read

Rain or shine, you can find Patrick Weatherspoon standing behind a large barbecue outside his new Windsor, Ont., restaurant.

There are no signs up yet on the Pelissier Street storefront, but Weatherspoon feels the charcoal grills draw people in through their senses.

“Those grills are the key,” he said, brushing the grates. “They are looking for a barbecue grill. You can smell the smoke from Wyandotte, and you can smell the smoke from Tecumseh.” 

Weatherspoon recently opened a soul food restaurant — a type of cuisine not easy to come by in Windsor.

He said he was surprised by that when he used to visit Windsor from Detroit. 

“There was never a place here that we could go to and sit down and eat a real good home-cooked soul food meal. Every pocket corner of Detroit, you can find a soul food restaurant.”

For years, Weatherspoon had been cooking at pop-up locations, but now, he has a permanent restaurant.

A picture of cooked chicken on a charcoal grill
Rain or shine Weatherspoon spends his days outside of his new store front grilling various meats on a charcoal grill. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

According to award-winning culinary author and historian Michael Twitty, soul food is the cuisine carried on by the descendants of enslaved people — with deep roots in the rural south of the United States. Food like collard greens, candied yams and chicken still links them to the past. 

“I call it the memory cuisine of the great and great-great grandchildren of the enslaved people of the American south,” said Twitty.

“It is the only cuisine that stands for something invisible, like love and God.”

Twitty, who lives in Virginia, said he’s surprised there aren’t more soul food restaurants in southwestern Ontario because of the number of African Americans who have moved farther north over the years. He chalks it up to people cooking traditional meals at home.

“It’s about time I guess. I would expect there would be at least several soul restaurants in Windsor.”

Michael Twitty poses with hand on chin for a picture
In his new book Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew, culinary historian Michael Twitty explores his experience being Black and Jewish, and how he brought his different identities together in the kitchen. (Bret Hartman/TED)

For Weatherspoon, the definition of soul food is easy.

“Soul food is comfort food,” he said. “It’s all about family. Growing up as a kid in Detroit, we had all my cousins come over. Everyone would get together and my mother would cook.”

Weatherspoon’s mother remains an inspiration to his culinary passion.

She was a union delegate with the United Auto Workers, retiring from Ford Motor Company. She also owned her own catering business. 

Picture of a baby in the arms of a man and a woman posing in front.
Patrick Weatherspoon as a baby with his mother, Theresa Weatherspoon and his uncle. Weatherspoon referred to his late mother as his “bestfriend.” (Submitted by Patrick Weatherspoon)

That passion for food took her many places, including the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., in October 1995. She helped cater at the event. 

The march gathered  thousands of African-American men around the National Mall in a publicity campaign aimed at combating the negative racial stereotypes in the American media and popular culture.

Weatherspoon said he went with his mother, and despite only being 14, he remembers the day vividly, even taking an oath to be a good member of society. 

“That had a really big input on how I live my life and how I raise my kids,” he said. “It made me more aware of my surroundings and what I wanted to do with myself growing from a youngster to a man.”

Picture of large dishes of collard greens, grilled chicken, candied yams and macaroni and cheese.
Weatherspoon is serving what he calls traditional soul food which includes collard greens, grilled chicken, candied yams and macaroni and cheese. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Weatherspoon said a good portion of his clientele is Americans crossing the border, or Americans who now live in Canada. 

“What happens is they come in and eat the food and say, ‘Oh man, this tastes like back home.'”

Weatherspoon said his food isn’t just for Black Americans and Canadians, it’s a cuisine that over time he’s hoping to share with all. 

“I get a lot of everybody. Every different kind of culture, they come here and eat the food because they love it.”

Limited supply despite growth in popularity

While soul food is something more people in Windsor seem to be getting a taste for, not many outlets are serving it up.

Another local cook who’s been making it available is Juanita Hurst with her pop-up business, Nita’s Soul.

But you have to know when and where to look to find it — and act fast before her batches of meals sell out.

The menu features a limited rich cuisine of fried chicken wings, sweet potatoes, cornbread and collard greens.

Juanita Hurst, right, and her mother, Judith, both cook soul food. Juanita's business focusing on the cuisine is called Nita's Soul in Windsor, Ont.
Juanita Hurst, right, and her mother, Judith, both cook soul food. Juanita’s business focusing on the cuisine is called Nita’s Soul in Windsor, Ont. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Hurst said she began to follow in her mother’s cooking footsteps a few years ago — kind of out of necessity. 

“I started around COVID time because I was working two jobs and I got laid off from both of them,” she said. “Cooking was something that I wanted to try out … do it for my kids, my family and everything.”

LISTEN | Soul food growing in popularity in Windsor: 

Windsor Morning9:58Soul food growing in popularity in Windsor, despite limited supply of places serving it

And once her neighbours got a taste, she said, they encouraged her to market her soul food via social media because they were unaware of anyone doing soul food in the city.

“Not the healthiest, but it’s the comfort in it. So that’s what matters the most to me.” 

According to Hurst, demand has been high.

“I’m only one person, so I can only take on so much. When I sell out, people get a little upset over it. I’m just doing ghost kitchens now.”

WATCH | Soul food cook happy with more Windsor options:

Soul food cook who’s happy more options of the cuisine are coming to Windsor, Ont.

Windsor, Ont.’s Judith Hurst says she’s encouraged to see more soul food options in the city instead of people having to cross the border for it.

Juanita’s mother, Judith, got her into cooking soul food.

“Everyone makes soul food,” said Judith. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your background is. It’s the love you put into it. And, those that come to it are just making it family.”

Judith said her favourite dish to make and eat is fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. But don’t expect her to divulge the soul food recipe anytime soon, even to family — similar to her mother and her homemade bread she was known for. 

“Before she passed, she finally gave it to my siblings. Now we were able to pass it down but she would never give it to anyone when she was alive.

“I can put them under house arrest. They all know the importance of the family secret recipe for that so it can always be eventually passed down generation to generation.”


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Five fists raised, different shades of brown skin, next to text that says Being Black in Canada surrounded by an orange and red border.
(CBC)

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