Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement Is Comfort Food That Satisfies

Fernay McPherson, who named her restaurant after her great-aunt and grandmother, says her comfort food resonates with so many people.


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Fernay McPherson has found a permanent space for Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

When Fernay McPherson was growing up in San Francisco’s Fillmore district, “my favorite dish to eat was tacos. My favorite dish to make was mac-and-cheese.

“When I was about 9, my mom already had me grating cheese. Eventually, she taught me how to put it all together.”

Named a Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2017, McPherson remembers those lessons, lovingly learned “at home, from the women in my life,” while making fried chicken, candied yams, cornbread, and other Southern classics at Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, whose move from a kiosk in the rotating pop-up stall at Public Market Emeryville to a permanent space in the market’s central hall is a long-awaited dream-come-true.

After graduating from culinary school in 2008, McPherson worked at Brown Sugar Kitchen, then faced challenges.

“This is a white-male-dominated field, and for me, as a woman of color, this journey turned out not to be easy. When I coudn’t find opportunities, I chose to venture out on my own and create my own light.”

That was a food truck: the original Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, named after her great-aunt Minnie and her grandmother Lillie Bell — whose painstaking caramel-cake recipe proved a customer favorite.

As its fan base grew, so did the business.

Focusing on McPherson’s signature rosemary-spiked chicken, an expanded menu at the new space includes braised greens, candied yams, fried-chicken salad, and rotating specials.

“These dishes resonate for so many people and mean ‘home’ for them,” said McPherson, an alumna of the nonprofit food incubator La Cocina.

“I don’t ever want to take that aspect away from this food. Even after I put my own twist on it, I want people to keep feeling that comfort.”

She learned that sense of comfort long ago.

“Among my fondest memories are family Christmases where my aunt would have a feast already cooked at 9 in the morning. I still don’t know how she did that. Later in the day, we’d move on to spend our evening at my grandmother’s house: There, too, the presentation was beautiful. Everyone ‘ate’ with their eyes before taking the first bite.

“Food always brought everyone together in my family. I loved that. It made me happy. It’s what I wanted to do for others if I could.

“Even people from other countries say they feel comfort while eating my food. I think that’s a huge compliment.”

 

Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville, 510-879-7199, MinnieBellsSoul.com.

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