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Smothered in Love

Past generations inspire a new soul food restaurant

By Nick Dekker

Published May 1, 2011
(Credit: Chris Casella)

Cooking has always been in Eugena Dade’s blood. She grew up helping her grandmother, who served as a professional cook for a wealthy family, any way she could, from shining silverware to prepping ingredients. Marveling at her grandmother’s abilities, Dade had promised her, “I’m going to buy you a restaurant when I get older.”

Later in life, her aunt owned a restaurant in Columbus and wrote recipes for the Dispatch; she taught Dade to be constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Dade spent her childhood clipping recipes from magazines and newspapers, while taking inspiration from early television cooking personalities.

“I thought I was going to be the black Julia Child!” she laughed.

Over the years, her dream of opening a restaurant kept getting deferred, with the passing of family members and Dade’s own extended illness. For seven years, she lived with a tracheotomy tube as she dealt with symptoms of sarcoidosis, but as she healed, she resolved to finally open her own eatery. Within three days of the tube’s removal in May 2010, Dade had set out to find a space, and a month later signed a lease for the spot at 1444 East Main Street, just a few blocks east of where her aunt’s restaurant stood. Dade chose the location on Columbus’ near east side to be an anchor for the neighborhood.

“I wanted the restaurant to be a notch up for the neighborhood,” she said. Her goal has been to create food that’s familiar and comfortable, served in a place that feels a bit like home.

Dade set to work, laboring alongside her contractors to design the space, build counters, install appliances, paint and decorate. Since then, she’s received stacks of letters expressing support and gratitude for what she’s doing for the community. One fan even sent her a first edition signed copy of Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook, with a note encouraging her to use recipes from it.

Persevering through many trials, Smothered Gravy triumphantly opened its doors on March 19th.

“No one in my family is alive to see this,” Dade says, except for her aunt, who lives in an assisted living home. But she hopes that the restaurant, serving as homage to generations of creating community around food, will be an inspiration to other families in the neighborhood and around the city.

Smothered Gravy

1444 E Main St.

(614) 252-3202

Open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturday, 1 – 9 p.m.