Samuel Van Buren and Jerome Brown (left to right), brothers and co-owners of Detroit Soul, opened their second location in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood.
Photo by Rasha Almulaiki.
Detroit Soul, a farm-to-table soul food restaurant, recently expanded into its second location in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. In 2015, brothers and co-owners Samuel Van Buren and Jerome Brown opened their first location along East 8 mile Road in Detroit.
Serving up old-fashioned soul food favorites like a slab of BBQ ribs with a steamy side of collard greens, the restaurant has grown into a hot spot for family dining and carry out while modeling an investment in community-centered practices.
Van Buren and Brown sat down with the Michigan Chronicle to talk about what inspired the idea for the restaurant and how they find their roots in the community’s economic empowerment and family-centered, healthy eating.
“We wanted to bring homestyle soul food cooking into the city neighborhoods because, growing up there, we never needed to go out or downtown,” said Brown. “Everything we needed was around us, from where you got your hair cut to where you found your groceries. And when we thought of opening up our 8 Mile location, we’re looking at the need now, the need was to bring food, good food, to the neighborhood.”
Brown said the idea for the restaurant can be traced back to childhood family reunions he went to every summer down South. He said the stovetops were always kept busy cooking up a storm of traditional food for the entire family.
“Waking up 6 or 7 in the morning, you will see these huge pots on the stove cooking,” said Brown. “All day, we would be called into the house and there was always something cooking from one meal to the next. That became what these reunions were about…gathering around each other with food made from the heart.”
Van Buren and his brother have been catering soul food in the community for 30 years while working at corporate jobs before deciding to quit and find fulfillment in nurturing the community with food.
“We are really feeling great,” said Brown. “Coming out of the pandemic, it was a very dismal time. It was a busy time for us as a business. But it was a dismal time because of the loss we were experiencing. Our catering business went from catering celebrations, weddings, reunions, baby showers to funeral repasts. It was hard being a part of that loss in our community. Every day, it was repast, repast, repast. So now, we are very fortunate, very energetic as we keep contributing back in pieces where we feel it’s been special to open up this second place and keep engaging.”
Detroit Soul’s second location at 14300 E. Jefferson in Detroit, was awarded a cash grant of $60,000 from the Motor City Match program’s 18th round. Brown and Van Buren received the help they needed from the funds to renovate their building from the old Kresge Building Department store.
Prior to the December 14 opening, Brown and Van Buren joined the Jefferson Chalmers Neighborhood Association and had to pitch the restaurant to the members on how it will serve the community’s needs.
“They told us they want to have a dine-in so they can come back to that idea of gathering with family,” said Brown. “A lot of what they were asking for were things we are already committed to. They wanted to have fresh food on the table. They wanted to have a restaurant that could be a part of the community, like jobs to hire locally and being involved in the activities around us.”
A farm-to-table restaurant, Detroit Soul sources 90 percent of its food from local food producers. Brown said they provide healthier alternatives to the high cholesterol diet of traditional soul food with more leafy greens and meat cut with less fat.
Both locations of Detroit Soul are staffed with local hires, which Brown said supports the city’s economy by supporting the residents.
The business also hosts opportunities to engage the youth in job training.
“We have summer youth programs for kids around 14, 15 years old and give them jobs at the restaurant,” said Van Buren. “We train them in how to do customer service, getting along with each other, leadership skills and work experience. They also do get paid doing it, while they are learning how to work.”
Coming up next for the restaurant, next February the Jefferson street location will debut an ice cream soda parlor serving nostalgic favorites like Boston coolers, creamsicle and root beer floats.