Inside the Lunch Rush at Bertha’s Kitchen, a Soul Food Institution

Originally posted by Bon Appetit

There’s an empty chair in the center of the action at Bertha’s Kitchen, the Charleston soul food institution that’s been serving hot plates of collard greens, fried chicken, and lima beans since it opened in 1981. The chair, humble and threadbare black leather, was where matriarch Albertha Grant watched over and instructed her children as they prepared for the lunchtime rush. What began as a home-cooked operation on one stove in a motel became a neighborhood restaurant fueled by unconditional love (and plenty of fry oil), winning the James Beard Award for America’s Classic in 2017. Grant passed away in 2007, and now her children own the place. But Bertha’s spirit fills the bright blue dining room where her portrait hangs on the wall in a gilt frame. One steamy May afternoon, not even the clap of storm clouds could keep the faithful away. As trays of barbecued pig’s feet, oxtail, yams, and smothered pork chops passed us by, we stuck around for an afternoon.

“The first time I met the special friend in my life was at Bertha’s,” says Cynthia Sweeney, Charleston native, retired teacher (pictured far right). “We are both seniors and we weren’t looking for anybody in our lives. He had just gotten off from work. I saw him get out of his vehicle in a rush. Just playfully I said, ‘I see you trying to rush and get in front of me’ because I know the line gets long sometimes. He said, ‘Actually, I’m rushing so I can open the door for you.’ That was three years ago. We’ve been with each other ever since.”

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