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Food for the soul, straight from the soul

Soul food cook’s expertise can be traced back to dad’s garden, mom’s kitchen

Atlanta, Ga – It was a dream that would grow for six decades, taking root alongside collard greens and black-eyed peas in her father’s vegetable garden in rural Georgia in the 1940s.

It was there that Louise Holmes was introduced to the home-grown produce that was often paired with the soul food classics, like crispy fried chicken and catfish, beef stew, meat loaf, barbecue chicken and ribs, that were served at family dinners.

It was in a cramped kitchen inside her family’s three-bedroom home where Louise Holmes began her culinary training in a style of cuisine that remains an enduring part of black culture.

Watching her mother make meals of neckbones, collard greens, rice and cornbread for her and nine siblings, Louise Holmes was able to learn how to create dozens of dishes rooted in African American history without ever scribbling down a single recipe. The history of soul food is an oral one, with recipes passed down from generation to generation by example.

Dating back to the days of American slavery, the first soul food dishes were invented when African Americans combined leftover meats discarded by plantation owners with produce they cultivated in their own vegetable patches.

Louise Holmes’ knowledge of soul food came to her much the same way, making do with what was available on the Girard, Ga farm her family worked and lived on and transforming those resources into fortifying and flavorful sustenance for the family of 12.

Lard from the hogs and milk from the cows they raised on the farm were the primary ingredients in her mother’s biscuit recipe because they were abundant. Flour and sugar were used more sparingly.   

At the age of 21, Louise married James Holmes, a self-educated mechanic, and moved less than 25 miles west to Waynesboro. While her husband worked as a full-time machinist at a cookie manufacturing factory and a part-time car mechanic, Louise Holmes put her best skills to use cooking in a school cafeteria and a hotel restaurant called Townhouse in neighboring Augusta.

But Louise Holmes stepped out of the food service industry to become a stay-at-home mom after giving birth to her seventh child, a daughter who was born with a muscle disorder.

But when Louise Holmes wasn’t tending to her children, she was back to growing black-eyed peas and collard greens and cooking soul food dishes for her family.

She often wondered if she could ever make a living serving the same soul food cuisine that her family savored so much. More than a decade passed before she decided to find out.

Louise Holmes took out a loan and sunk a significant portion of her family’s savings into a catering service named after her youngest daughter, Kayla.

Founded in 1997, Kayla’s Catering in Augusta was almost an immediate success, and Louise Holmes’ cooking was always in demand at weddings, family reunions, birthday parties and business luncheons.

It wasn’t long before she earned the loyal patronage of the Blue Cross Blue Shield business complex. The company hired her to bring in breakfast and lunch several times a week to sell inside their employee cafeteria.

In 2004, Louise Holmes’ business-minded daughters decided their mother’s cooking would fare well in other markets, too. They began laying the groundwork to help their mother open the soul food restaurant she always dreamed of owning.

Tammie Holmes, who has a master’s degree in computer information systems, and Charla Holmes, who is a registered nurse, scouted several sites for her restaurant and discovered an ideal location along a heavily traveled road in midtown Atlanta, a refurbished Krystal fast food eatery.

The caterer and longtime cook agreed to her daughters’ plan, and Louise Holmes opened her soul food restaurant Louise’s at 428 Ponce de Leon Ave in April.

“We’re in this together, as a family, and to see my dream of owning and running my own restaurant come true with them by my side, that’s really the dream come true,” Louise Holmes said.

Co-owned by Louise, Charla and Tammie Holmes, the cafeteria-style restaurant features a rotating menu of traditional recipes that Louise Holmes has been cooking for her nine children and husband for decades, including oxtail with homemade gravy, fried catfish, liver, rutabaga, lima beans and turnip greens.

One of the eatery’s signature menu items is hickory and charcoaled smoked barbecue ribs. The barbecue sauce used for the ribs is known as “Leroy’s barbecue sauce,” a three-generations-old secret recipe developed by Louise Holmes’ father, Leroy Scott.

“People who come in and eat here say it reminds them of their grandma’s cooking, and that’s what keeps them coming back,” Tammie Holmes said.  

On any given day, you’ll find at least one Holmes family member, Louise, Tammie, or Charla, with serving spoon in hand, waiting to heap more-than-filling portions onto a guest’s plate.

While Louise Holmes feels fortunate to own a restaurant with her daughters, the business venture requires sacrifice.

For the first time, Louise Holmes lives apart from her husband of 40 years.

Her husband remains in Waynesboro working for the same factory he’s been employed with for 43 years.

Most days of the week, Louise Holmes stays with Tammie, who lives in Atlanta.

Louise and James Holmes devote Sundays to church and each other, the only day the restaurant is closed for business.

 “He’s always been a good father and a good provider,” Tammie Holmes said of her father. “They take turns visiting each other in Waynesboro and Atlanta, and are very much each others biggest supporters.”  


Media Contact:
Krista Zilizi
Quantified Marketing Group

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