In an nondescript strip mall off of busy NW 27th in Miami Gardens is a project worthy of widespread attention.
Inside is a small restaurant with big dreams to save a culture before it dies out forever.
This is the story of the place that wants to save soul food in Miami.
At Miami Soul Cafe, soul food is serious business.
“I was raised up on soul food,” Carrollo Phillips said.
“Soul food kind of deals with the person who’s making it,” Willis Howard said. “Putting you heart into it. We were given a lot of scraps a long time ago and we had to make the best with those scraps.”
Well known Miami political operative Willis Howard has wanted to open a place like this for many years.
“it is the largest African-American city in the state. Almost 115,000 African-American residents. And there wasn’t really a black staple. We had a lot of other restaurants from Caribbean, Haitian, Bahamian, Jamaican. But not anything dealing with just African-American food.”
But Howard’s dream of a proudly black restaurant in a proudly black city wouldn’t be possible without this man.
Chef Carrollo Phillips.
“And when you taste that, you gonna taste that love. I don’t care what it is. You’re going to taste it.”
Phillips grew up in Miami and was a big time athlete at Miami Northwestern high school.
He was drafted into Vietnam where he got to hone his cooking skills while running mess halls near the front lines.
But he also saw action and was injured.
“It wasn’t no vacation over there brother. No sir. Still had to go out and survive. That’s what I called it. Survive.”
He came home from the war a damaged young man.
But Phillips took some of the love for soul food he had learned cooking with his mom and grandma and the organization skills developed by the army to start a long career as a successful caterer.
That’s how Howard and him would eventually meet.
Miami Soul Cafe has a large menu of southern soul food favorites.
Howard hopes that his place can help remind his community why soul food is so important.
He wants to save it from disappearing forever.
“Chef is amazing,” Howard said. “Just to have him and his presence. It’s his recipes. And I hope that we can foster something that these recipes don’t die out with us. That other folks come in here and see it. He has no problem showing you everything he does. ‘Let me shows you how to make a biscuit. Let me show how to make grits. Let me show you how to do the fish. Because hopefully, you’ll be able to go out and spinoff and make some more of these things. Because if not, our food will be gone. It will be gone.”