SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Dawn Evette Reed vividly remembers growing up in Syracuse, and at the age of 12, watching her mother and grandmother cook in their kitchen.
“I used to sit at a table and I can remember my grandmother making cornbread dressing and I would ask, ‘Grandma how do you do that?,’ “ says Reed, owner of the Winnie’s Soul Delicious restaurant that should be opening soon on the Syracuse University (SU) Hill.
From watching her grandmother mix the bread pieces with other needed ingredients by hand, Reed says she was always curious as to why and how she did that.
“I always used to ask, ‘Can I help?,’ ‘how do you that?,’ or ‘show me please?,’ ” says Reed.
Reed says that at an early age she became amazed at what the women in her family could cook and how. Her mother, Winnie, used to be the head cook and caterer for Reed’s uncle and his many businesses — one of them being Keys Clubs, a former local Syracuse bar and night club.
Reed took after her mother and has catered for various business in central and upstate New York. At first, she ran her catering business from her own kitchen, but soon she was able to work from a commissary kitchen in order to expand her services.
“I have a great following and people tell me that they love my food. That is what makes me happy,” says Reed.
Her early interest as a child helped to shape what would become Reed’s passion — cooking soul food and opening her own restaurant, Winnie’s Soul Delicious, located at 123 Marshall St.
The restaurant which is named after her mother, is a tribute to what Reed’s mother and grandmother showed her as a child in the kitchen.
“I took their recipes and what they taught me but add my Evette spin to it,” quips Reed.
Reed says that she has always dreamt of opening her own restaurant but was waiting for the right time.
“People would always ask me when I would open up a restaurant but my answer has always been the same: I’m not opening up a restaurant until I’m where I want to be,” says Reed.
For her, that place was Marshall Street, a popular street on the SU campus that houses many restaurants and shops.
“I really believe that I’ve manifested this to happen. I remember when I got the call saying I got the space and all I could do was cry and say thank you,” says Reed.
Since her space is small, she says that Winnie’s Soul Delicious will mainly function as a takeout restaurant.
For several months, Reed has been remodeling the space, including installing a gas line doing floorwork, and getting the kitchen ready.
She says she has been able to largely self-finance the venture along with some additional financial help from her family.
Currently, Reed is waiting to receive a permit from the city of Syracuse so she can open her restaurant, but believes that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is delaying the process. She expected to open in September but now is uncertain when her opening date will be.
“We’re 90 percent done so once I receive that permit, we will be opening up immediately,” says Reed.
With a menu that includes foods such as pulled pork, oxtails, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, cabbage, pork chops, and much more, she says there is something on the menu for everyone.
“You can come in everyday and eat something new,” says Reed.
She notes that her personal go-to-meal is macaroni and cheese, pigs’ feet, collard dressing, candied yams, and a pineapple upside down cake for dessert. But most importantly she says she can’t forget the grape Kool-Aid to wash it all down.
As of now, Reed’s family will be helping to staff the restaurant but she is hoping to hire students from Syracuse University in the future.
“Everyone has to eat and I love to see people happy,” says Reed.
While Reed has accomplished her goal of starting a restaurant, she isn’t stopping there.
“I want to open a sit-down restaurant one day. I’m not sure where, but it’s going to happen,” says Reed. As for a sales goal, she says she simply wants to “earn and expand.”
As a Syracuse native, Reed hopes that her restaurant and story can show other minority people in the city that they can do anything they want and that this helps to open doors for others.