Soul Food restaurant in Kent continues to thrive during COVID-19
By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
In the black community, there are two essential things that black people are proud of: family and food.
In Kent, there is a place that exudes just that. Nana’s southern cuisine. The restaurant, which opened last December, serves southern dishes like fried chicken, catfish, fried shrimp, pork chops, potato salad, mustard or cabbage green and candied yams and attracts customers from all over the region.
COVID-19 has devastated the commercial landscape and many restaurants have closed for good or are on the verge of closing. Despite having the deck stacked against them, especially being a start-up in its first year of business, Nana’s defied the odds and not only survives, but thrives as demand for the coveted comfort food increased.
Their growth is punctuated by their desire to continue to hire to meet their growing demand. Nana’s started in December 2019 with only 4 employees. Their success allowed them to hire up to 5 more people before COVID, and amazingly they are now operating with 15 employees.
Nana’s owner, Todd Minor, said modeling his business after East Coast soul food restaurants helped him weather the storm, as the model complied with operating restrictions imposed by national authorities. and local due to COVID-19.
“On the East Coast there are a million different takeout outlets, even if you had dinner there, you were still eating from a takeout container,” Minor says. “I had built Nana’s to take everything out and so when COVID hit I was a little nervous because you didn’t know if people were going to eat out, but the model was already set up to take your food out.”
Minor and his wife, Tanieka, an East Coast emigrant, came to the Pacific Northwest like most others by opportunity. Microsoft offered Minor a job and he jumped at the chance. Parents of five – Mercedes 16, McKenzie 9, twins Madison and Todd Jr. 5, and Anson 2 – the family embarked on their efforts to become restaurateurs last December unaware that next year would test their resolve as a company and a family. unity.
The COVID crisis was going to start the year testing everyone and Nana’s was not immune. The miners were nervous when, as new business owners, the country began its lockdown.
If you talk to many experts, they will tell you that restoration is not an easy business, but that hasn’t deterred Minor from his vision. He did his due diligence, studied the market and the business model, but one thing he didn’t factor into the equation was COVID-19.
Minor wasn’t sure exactly how this adversity would affect the future of his business, but he and his family pushed on. Like most businesses when March 2020 hit and the state ordered a shutdown, their future was uncertain.
“After opening everything was going great, we were really busy and COVID hit and we couldn’t have anyone in the restaurant and at that point I was nervous,” says Minor.
“You have to remember when COVID closed a lot of places, we’re next to Starbucks, Starbucks closed, everyone closed but Nana stayed open,” Minor continued. “We were one of the only places other than McDonalds in the world that were still open, we stayed open the whole time.”
Shekinah Brown, who is in charge of the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, says community support, even in the midst of a pandemic, has been a key factor in the company’s success.
“I was the second person hired when they opened, and even during the pandemic we were still able to hire and provide opportunities,” says Brown.
“Honestly, I think we’ve been blessed,” Brown continued. “We were a new company because we all tried to figure out how to run it. But we created a system and worked to execute it perfectly.
Family is the most important thing to Minors and it was important for them to centralize their family and so Minor had to find a way to bring the rest of his family to Puget Sound. As he pondered, he decided the best way to do this was to eat.
Minor’s great-grandmother, Myrtle Henderson, affectionately known as “Nana” after whom the restaurant is named, was a well-known Connecticut chef for over 40 years. His recipes have been passed down through the miner’s family and thinking why not open a restaurant in Kent and kill two birds with one stone – unite their family and community through a love of food.
Minor was raised by his grandmother, Dorothy Marion, and he wanted to take her to the West Coast, so he began formulating his vision and plan for a family-run restaurant. He suggested his business plan to his family and persuaded them to move to Seattle.
Today, Nana’s is indeed a family affair. His mother, Jackey Minor, is the genius behind the flavor as she runs the kitchen with their grandfather, Philip, who prepares the greens. Her grandmother exemplifies hospitality by greeting everyone who enters the restaurant. Minor’s wife, Tanieka, takes care of all the baking and desserts, his 16-year-old daughter, Mercedes, works weekends while studying. But it is the recipes of her great grandmother “Nana” that give the soul and spirit of the place.
“Originally, before I opened Nana’s, my brainchild for the name was actually ‘Soul To Go,'” Minor explains. “But thinking about it and meditating and praying, I said I wanted to do something with a legacy in mind, something that would help people and give a place some spirit and I couldn’t think of to a better mind than my great-grandmother.
Meanwhile, with all the nuances of being a restaurant owner, Minor continued his work at Microsoft and as the pandemic evolved, it became necessary for Minor to dip into his personal finances to help maintain viability. of the company and to retain its personnel.
“We were lucky,” says Minor. “We have a great staff and it was important for us to maintain everyone’s schedules, especially when things slowed down. As a business owner I had to make tough decisions and at the start of COVID I had to take money out of my own pocket to make sure my parents could keep the same hours as before COVID.
Despite having to take money out of his pocket for his employees, Minor maintains a positive attitude and says the support from the community, especially the black community, has helped him stay focused, energized and upbeat. According to Minor, campaigns across the region to support businesses have been a boon to the fledgling company.
“When you talk about a tailwind, what happened was that all the people started to focus on supporting black-owned businesses and that raised Nana’s awareness so much,” Minor says. “The African American community has been supporting Nana’s and I’ll tell you the support throughout COVID where people have come out specifically to make sure we were good almost made me want to crack as they came [through the door].”
But support campaigns aren’t the only reason for Nana’s continued success. In other words, it’s food. Coveted comfort food is hard to come by, and at Nana’s, customers like Mark and Crissea Nickell have found a place to eat that they truly enjoy.
“Nana’s offers a very friendly, family-run service with a very good and consistent menu,” says Mark Nickell. “At the time my wife had health issues and struggled to find foods she could eat and enjoy and when we discovered Nana it was a breakthrough for her and did a lot for her health, it was a godsend.”
Soul food defines comfort food and family and Nana’s defines soul food. Nana’s also defines perseverance as she defied adversity brought on by this unfortunate time and this pandemic. Nana lasted because the miners were brave enough to take risks and because of those risks the community came together to support them in these uncertain times.
With his mother in charge of the kitchen, his wife as the master dessert baker, his daughter offering her energy, the leadership of Shekinah Brown and an engaged staff, Nana’s has not only withstood this pandemic, but they are a success in the way which can be overcome.
The miners are very grateful for the blessings bestowed upon them and for having this opportunity to serve the people, as their success testifies to their perseverance and belief in a dream.
“A lot of people have said how tough the restaurant business will be,” Minor said. “They said it would be impossible to find good people, I’ll tell you every one of those people was wrong.”
“Whatever dream you’re trying to achieve and the naysayers tell you all the reasons why it won’t work, I’ll tell you to persevere, go out there and dream big, put your dreams on the line. canvas of your imagination and take one step each day towards realizing that dream,” concluded Minor.