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Rosemary Fried Chicken Stars on Minnie Bell’s Menu at Public Market Emeryville

Mac and cheese, cornbread, and gumbo are there too

Fernay McPherson’s pop-up and catering business Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement is about to get bigger with a new home at Public Market Emeryville. Starting March 15, McPherson will serve a menu of traditional southern dishes that she learned to cook from her late grandmother Lilly Bell and her great-aunt Minnie while growing up in San Francisco’s Fillmore District.

They’re “the two women who inspired me to cook,” McPherson says, and in naming her business Minnie Bell’s after them, “it was me taking them on this journey with me.” But “some of the dishes,” McPherson admits, “I put my little twist on.”

Her fried chicken is one such creation, brined for 24 hours in buttermilk, hot sauce, and fresh rosemary, then dredged in flour and fried with rosemary stalks. “Rosemary’s my favorite herb, and I was just playing around with it. I was like, hmm, let’s see if I like it like this.”

McPherson’s great-aunt Minnie, now 85, likes it too. “I think one of the proudest moments for me is when I have dinners over at my house [with her] and she says ‘you continue to get better and better.’ That’s more validation for me than anything, my aunt, who celebrates my cooking.”

Minnie Bell’s is a graduate of Mission-based food incubator La Cocina, which helped launch the fledgling soul food business in 2011. “Being a part of that family... It provides so many platforms for us, outside of cooking,” McPherson says. La Cocina helps food entrepreneurs write business plans and find investment, but it also helps in “telling our stories and supporting us.”

Minnie Bell’s new Emeryville space was previously occupied by another La Cocina alum — Nyum Bai, a Cambodian restaurant that left the space for a standalone location in Fruitvale where it opened recently. McPherson would like to follow suit after her year-long lease in Emeryville is up — but she’d like to wind up back in the Fillmore. “I would absolutely love to be in my hood.”

Once heralded as the Harlem of the West, “It was a neighborhood that was rich in African American businesses, and to see that diminish is heartbreaking,” says McPherson. Even recently, the neighborhood has lost celebrated black-owned restaurants like 1300 on Fillmore and Black Bark Barbecue (which hopes to relocate). “We need to have a presence there,” McPherson says. Maybe that’s why she calls Minnie Bell’s a movement — because that’s what it takes.

Nyum Bai

3340 East 12th Street, , CA 94601 (510) 500-3338 Visit Website