Rain or shine, you can find Patrick Weatherspoon standing behind a large barbecue outside his new Windsor restaurant.

There’s no signs up yet on the Pelissier Street storefront, but Weatherspoon feels the charcoal grills out front are drawing people in through their senses.

“Those grills are the key. They are looking for a barbecue grill. You can smell the smoke from Wyandotte, and you can smell the smoke from Tecumseh,” he said, brushing the grates. 

Weatherspoon recently opened a soul food restaurant — a type of cuisine not easy to come by in Windsor. Weatherspoon says he was surprised by that when he used to visit Windsor from Detroit. 

“There was never a place here that we could go to and sit down and eat a real good home-cooked soul food meal. Every pocket corner of Detroit, you can find a soul food restaurant.”

For years, Weatherspoon had been cooking at pop-up locations, but now, he has permanent restaurant.

A picture of cooked chicken on a charcoal grill
Rain or shine Weatherspoon spends his days outside of his new store front grilling various meats on a charcoal grill. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

According to award-winning culinary author and historian Michael Twitty, soul food is the cuisine carried on by the descendants of enslaved people. Food like collard greens, candied yams and chicken still links them to the past. 

“I call it the memory cuisine of the great and great-great grandchildren of the enslaved people of the American south,” said Twitty.

“It is the only cuisine that stands for something invisible, like love and God.”

Twitty, who lives in Virginia, said he’s surprised there aren’t more soul food restaurants in southwestern Ontario because of the number of African Americans who have moved farther north over the years. He chalks it up to people cooking traditional meals at home.

“It’s about time I guess. I would expect there would be at least several soul restaurants in Windsor.”

Michael Twitty poses with hand on chin for a picture
In his new book Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew, culinary historian Michael Twitty explores his experience being Black and Jewish, and how he brought his different identities together in the kitchen. (Bret Hartman/TED)

For Weatherspoon, the definition of soul food is easy.

“Soul food is comfort food,” he said. “It’s all about family. Growing up as a kid in Detroit, we had all my cousins come over. Everyone would get together and my mother would cook.”

Weatherspoon’s mother remains an inspiration to his culinary passion.

She was a union delegate with the United Auto Workers, retiring from Ford Motor Company. She also owned her own catering business. 

That passion for food took her many places, including the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., in October of 1995. She helped cater at the event. 

The march gathered  thousands of African-American men around the National Mall in a publicity campaign aimed at combating the negative racial stereotypes in the American media and popular culture.

Weatherspoon said he went with his mother, and despite only being 14, he remembers the day vividly, even taking an oath to be a good member of society. 

“That had a really big input on how I live my life and how I raise my kids,” he said. “It made me more aware of my surroundings and what I wanted to do with myself growing from a youngster to a man.”

Picture of large dishes of collard greens, grilled chicken, candied yams and macaroni and cheese.
Weatherspoon is serving what he calls traditional soul food which includes collard greens, grilled chicken, candied yams and macaroni and cheese. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Weatherspoon said a good portion of his clientele is Americans crossing the border, or Americans who now live in Canada. 

“What happens is they come in and eat the food and say, ‘Oh man, this tastes like back home.'”

Weatherspoon said his food isn’t just for Black Americans and Canadians, it’s a cuisine that over time he’s hoping to share with all. 

“I get a lot of everybody. Every different kind of culture, they come here and eat the food because they love it.”