SimplyCookingWithDonna will bring soul food takeout to downtown St. Louis next week
On Thursday, Feb. 11, Donna Vickers, who goes by chef Donna, will open SimplyCookingWithDonna, a to-go style soul food restaurant, in a 2,000-square-foot kitchen space on the fourth floor of the St. Patrick Center at 800 N. Tucker Blvd. in downtown St. Louis. The new venture is an accumulation of Vickers' culinary successes.
“I always had in the back of my mind that I should be operating a restaurant,” Vickers said. “I knew the potential was there.”
Her menu has been in development for over 16 years and consists of a variety of dishes she has learned to perfect, many of which were inspired by the food her dad, James Johnson – who’s from Alabama – originally taught her mom, Delores Johnson, a St. Louis native. Chicken is her specialty, whether fried, grilled or roasted, but there will also be a variety of other options, including pork chops, hamburgers, pasta and salad.
“I was able to expand on their recipes and create a more diverse menu and just food that everybody loves,” Vickers said.
Though Vickers had never cooked growing up, she describes being in the kitchen with her mom at a young age as a transformative experience.
“We had a connection in the kitchen,” Vickers said. “She’d be making dinner, I’d come over, and some people can just gel in an atmosphere, and we could. Before she passed, I was talking to her about Thanksgiving dinner, and she said, ‘Donna, you’re the cook now.’”
Once the baton was passed to Vickers, she ran with it. Along with working her regular job as a nurse, which she’d been doing since 1995, in 2006 she was placed as the head of the culinary missionary at her church, responsible for a staff of 30. In 2008, she began a culinary program at Saint Louis Community College – Forest Park.
“I set my budget, created my menu, orchestrated the staff,” Vickers said. “From opening to close, it was my responsibility. We would do the picnics and all the church events where there were sometimes thousands of people.”
It was in this position that she began to discover there was a real need for her food. She began selling her own, special seasoning online, on top of developing her own cookbook and creating her own catering business, also named SimplyCookingWithDonna. It was a hit.
“At the fairs, our lines would be wrapped around,” Vickers said. “They would have to shut us down at the end of the night.” This was back in 2019, and it was what gave her the confidence to begin work on her plans to open the restaurant.
“We were thinking 2020 was our year,” Vickers said. “And then Covid came, and there was so much talk about restaurants closing, and catering was down to zero. So I had to decide which way I was going to go.”
That’s when the idea to offer a strictly to-go style restaurant came up. They found the right space downtown and decided to focus their efforts on making their food as accessible as possible in the safest way they could.
The food will be available through three third-party delivery services: Uber Eats, DoorDash and GrubHub. In addition, there will be an in-house delivery staff, as well as phone and online ordering and contactless, curbside pickup or pickup on the first floor of the building. Customers can call in their orders or place them online. Eventually, given the opportunity, she hopes to expand to be able to offer sit-down seating. But for now, safety is key.
“I want to make sure that people are safe – that the staff is safe,” Vickers said. “But that we are also able to get good food into the hands of people.”
SimplyCookingWithDonna will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
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