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Soul to Soul

Lord, have mercy--your mama's down-home cooking has gone gourmet.

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This story appears in the February 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Like any soul- worth its weight in red beans and rice, Soul Folks Cafe feels more like someone's living room than someone's place of business. The eatery just won't let you rush--not through its warehouse-style restaurant filled with eclectic artwork and comfy furniture; not through owner/chef Yealang Smith's , with selections such as "James Brown's 'Hit Me Two Times' Fried ;" and certainly not through a meal.

Soul Folks is one of a number of gourmet soul-food establishments cropping up nationwide. It's a trend that makes sense for anyone who grew up on cornbread, fried chicken, seafood gumbo, catfish, and macaroni and cheese--and who's now looking for the equivalent in a gourmet restaurant. "Anyone born in America has eaten soul food at some point," explains Smith, 39, who started Soul Folks in 1996, moved into her 10,000-square-foot location in March 2004, and now averages up to $30,000 monthly in sales. "The high-end chefs are now taking soul food and translating it into their own creations."

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