Chef Greg Beard stands by a mural on the side of his restaurant, Chef Greg’s Soul-N-The Wall
Photo, far right, by Sherri Kolade
It’s not hard to get lost in the depths of flavor and soul that seep out from the kitchen deep inside Chef Greg’s Soul-N-The Wall soul food restaurant located at 10009 Curtis St. and Wyoming on Detroit’s northwest side.
From friendly conversation in the hot kitchen where staff always throws down while dishing out soul food to talk that makes some want to clutch their pearls, it’s all in good humor — with a side of a whole lotta love — at the barbecue joint where framed pictures of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and others grace the front carryout area.
A neon “open” sign is a cue for customers in the early afternoon to come by to order up. This local establishment is a dream come true for the owner and chef Greg Beard, who keeps copies of different publications close by that feature his famous restaurant, along with their rave reviews of his delicious eats.
“I always had it in my mind, I’m going to open a restaurant,” Beard said, adding that he’s always been inspired to “keep on keeping on” with his hard work and grinding to bring his dreams to reality at his family establishment.
In 2006, Beard opened his restaurant near Mumford High School, which Beard used to attend.
Beard, who spoke to the Michigan Chronicle, said, while sitting on a stool just outside the restaurant to cool down on that overcast, light rainy morning, that he opened his restaurant to bring better soul food back to the city.
Beard, who has a wealth of culinary and hospitality experience, works at his soul food restaurant alongside his brother and son, Greg Beard Jr., who is as matter of fact and funny as his delicious cooking and musical skills as a guitarist and producer.
Beard’s primary purpose, as posted on Facebook, is to offer a variety of exquisite cuisine along with outstanding service within a safe, friendly environment along with “unique diverse styles of food.”
Home to the viral Boogaloo Wonderland sandwich, the gastronomical delight is reminiscent of a “glorified loose burger” – but so much better. The sandwich is typically made with seasoned ground beef (or with chicken, steak, and vegetarian options), caramelized onions, melted cheese, a tangy, flavorful Boogaloo sauce – all piled between an eight-inch Italian grilled bun. Beard cherishes the sandwich so much he even has it saved on his phone’s lock screen.
Customers also come from as far away as Chicago, California, Florida and elsewhere to get a bite of the Boogaloo Wonderland sandwich after it went viral from a video about his restaurant.
“Food had to been good,” Beard said of his growing fans that recognize him nationally.
Amidst the joking and humor (sometimes a bit too risqué for print), Beard Jr., 33, said in all seriousness that he is as passionate about making music and food while doing whatever it takes to better the family business.
As a former businessman in the local corporate world (which he left around three years ago) Beard Jr. went to work at his father’s restaurant while working on his music career.
“I want to make music professionally,” he said, adding that he wants to be in a position where he can do what he has to do to uplift himself and the restaurant. “Whatever you got to do to make the restaurant happen, do it.”
That particular day the kitchen was buzzing as the noisy receipt machine went off continually alerting the cooks that the cashier out front just rang up an order. Coming right up at that moment was none other than the Boogaloo Wonderland sandwich as the semi-crowded kitchen staff moved effortlessly, rhythmically, to get the ingredients ready to be served. And don’t forget your Kool-Aid drink options to wash it all down.
“Without food, we wouldn’t be here,” Beard’s friendly brother, dishwasher, food prep, and chef-in-training, Daniel Ragland said inside the kitchen. “Food is medication; brings us together.”
Ragland said that soul food like the restaurant’s triple-layer butter crust peach cobbler, black-eyed peas, and more is what keeps the customers coming back.
“Good morning chef,” someone yelled from a car during Beard’s interview outside. Others strolled by greeting him as the friendly acknowledged patrons who kept on pouring in and out of his restaurant like clockwork.
For those interested in non-meat options but still want that flavor and spice, they are welcome to try Beard’s seasoned, sauteed vegetables like his famous collard greens, sweet potatoes and more.
For those looking for more options to indulge, their seared wings and Detroit Philly steak and chicken subs are available, too.
“All foods are made from scratch with the freshest ingredients possible,” Beard Jr., who gets his cooking and also musical background from his entrepreneur father, said.
You can’t quite talk about Greg’s Soul-N-The Wall without mentioning the late Detroit native Allee Willis, a Hall of Fame, Grammy, Emmy, Tony, Webby award-winning/nominated songwriter, performer, artist, and self-proclaimed party-thrower who loved Beard’s Boogaloo Wonderland sandwich. The two had been practically inseparable as good friends since meeting by happenstance in 2011.
“One of those things that the powers that be made everything fall into place,” Beard said.
She had flown Beard out to Los Angeles to serve his signature Boogaloo Wonderland sandwiches, which was named by a Mumford student in 1967 after the popular Boogaloo dance, according to her website. The Wonderland was added when she met him and fell in love with the sandwich, and he added it as a tribute to her song “Boogie Wonderland.”
She also introduced him to the likes of stars like comedian Lunell and Larry Dunn, the keyboard player for Earth, Wind and Fire, among other celebrities who have now become his dear friends.
Beard, who could talk for hours about the importance of life, meeting people at the right time and passing his cooking skills to the next generation, said that while he plans in the near future to expand throughout metro Detroit, that it is “wonderful” to bring all of his love for food just minutes away from where he grew up on his side of the city, which he is also passionate about.
“[It is an] experience to take all what I learned and give that back to the community,” he said.