Jerome Smallwood named his restaurant Vivian’s Soul Food after his mother, who taught him to cook.
“That’s where I got a lot of my recipes — from my mom and my grandmother,” he said.
He honed his skills in Kirkwood Community College’s Culinary Arts program. But the heart of his food remains rooted in his family.
“Cooking has pretty much always been a passion for me,” he said. “My mom always had me in the kitchen, helping her out.”
He opened Vivian’s in July on the southwest side. He said before opening, he saw a dearth of soul food restaurants in Cedar Rapids and wanted to help fill that demand.
“Every group of people has food that represents their culture,” he said. “I wanted to do something different than what other restaurants were doing.”
That has paid off. He’s had patrons travel from Iowa City, Waterloo and farther to try his food. Eventually, he’d like to expand and open more locations, but for now he’s focused on serving the customers who fill the restaurant each night.
They’re a large part of the reason he’s doing this, after all.
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“It’s just the excitement of creating something from scratch and giving it to people and seeing their enjoyment,” he said.
He also simply enjoys the act of making food.
“My house is usually the house people want to come to, because they know I’m always cooking,” he said.
His menu, which rotates daily, includes entrees like fried catfish, fried chicken, smothered pork chops and chicken, ribs, pot roast and oxtails, all available with sides like candied yams, baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens and red beans and rice.
He also sometimes runs specials — a recent favorite has been fried lobster tail. Almost all of his recipes come from his mother and grandmother.
“I look at soul food as just American food,” he said. “It’s how people used to eat before everything was instant stuff you just throw into the microwave.”
He said everything he serves is fresh and made in-house.
“With me, it’s a passion, where I care about what I’m giving you,” he said. “I can’t give you anything out of a can.”
WHAT: Vivian’s Soul Food
WHERE: 4342 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
DETAILS: (319) 396-2229; Vivianssoulfoodcr.com