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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-food restaurant 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 Los Angeles 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 menu, with selections such as "James Brown's 'Hit Me Two Times' Fried Chicken;" 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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