is more than just a soul food joint. Located in Stapleton, Staten Island, the restaurant serves up favorites like barbecue ribs, fried chicken and whiting and stellar sides such as macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and collard greens. But as good as the food is, the melt-into-the-couch environment is a greater draw.
“I believe that every detail in here is a part of me. When people walk in the door, they have the opportunity to experience the hug [that their soul needs],” says owner Shaw-naé Dixon. That hug is an extension of her love and affinity for healing that she integrates into everything—the food, the décor, the music. It’s why hip-hop favorites and other celebrities have called on her for a soulful food experience.
We recently spoke to Dixon about her restaurant and how she got her start in the culinary world. Read on to learn a bit of the journey of this Staten Islander who is changing lives one meal (and one hug) at a time.
Photo: José A. Alvarado Jr.
Shaw-naé Dixon: I learned how to cook as a child. My grandmother was a chef, taught for over 40 years on Staten Island and led a cooking ministry at church. Of 19 grandchildren, I’m the only one who cooks professionally.
I didn’t find a love for cooking until I was married. My husband’s mother loved to cook and she passed down her love of food to him. So as we started going out to restaurants, he didn’t mind being experimental and picking things off of the menu that he had no idea what he was eating. Stuff that I would never try.
We came into the marriage with three kids between us. In order to eat well, I recognized that I needed to learn how to cook. So it became a challenge for me. As we continued to try new foods I began to understand the different spices and complexities to the flavors. Over the years I perfected my craft.
SD: I started cooking out of my house, frying turkeys. My father would talk about it at work, so I started getting customers through his job. They started driving from Queens, Brooklyn, Connecticut, even Philly to get fried turkey. I had 10 deep friers in the back of my house.
Around 2015, while I was working my day job, I started struggling with anxiety and depression to the point where I couldn’t do anything. It was very stressful and my husband was like, “You can’t do this anymore. This is killing you.” He handed me his paycheck one day and said to go out and buy some food, cook it and try to sell it. I didn’t have a lot of friends on Facebook but that Friday I posted my menu, casually telling people I was selling food. I doubled his money that weekend.
I took a leave of absence [from my job] for a year and started selling food out of my house. It was blowing up to the point where it wasn’t just about selling food in my community—people were coming from everywhere. I thought, “What if I opened up my house and allowed people to eat here?” And so I transformed my whole first floor into a full-fledged restaurant, with cash register, staff and all.
Photos: José A. Alvarado Jr.
SD: Yes. Everybody walks in here, from every walk of life, and they feel like they’re at home. That was really what my goal was. It was to make sure that everybody felt like they were getting a hug when they walked in here.
SD: June 6, 2021. We took every dime that we had and put 1,000 percent into it, even though at the time we didn’t even know where the world was going [with the pandemic]. We trusted the process of turning this tiny space with no equipment, no dishes, and figured out how to open a restaurant.
We had about 400 people at our grand opening. It was like a block party. They couldn’t come inside because of the pandemic, so everyone was standing outside. We put a big grill in front and fed everyone for free. We partied all night.
Photos: José A. Alvarado Jr.
SD: I knew that I really wanted to work with [radio host] Charlamagne tha God. I was really persistent, speaking with this radio station rep every day for two months to the point where we built a rapport. She advocated for me and eventually I cooked for Charlamagne and his lady at their home for Valentine’s Day. It was a big deal not only because I’m a fan but because he doesn’t allow just anyone in his home.
It went great and he started asking me who else I want to work with. I said, “Angie Martinez,” and he calls her right up and says, “Yo, Angie, my chef is here, she’s really good.” And just like that I went to Angie Martinez’ two weeks later.
SD: I worked with Bruce Willis right before the pandemic. He did an energy [drink] commercial. He just wanted regular old turkey and cheese sandwiches and coffee, light bites and stuff like that. I think I got this opportunity because he was going through a shift. You could tell by his demeanor that things were changing and he was seeking a healthier pace in life.
I got a job working with Ed Norton doing the film Motherless Brooklyn. I was working in a restaurant partnered with A$AP Rocky’s group, A$AP Mob in Harlem. While working there, Norton’s people came over and said that they were shooting a movie down the street that they didn’t have any food for. Our restaurant wasn’t together—we had no pots, barely any staff, literally one spatula—so I initially said no. For some reason, the next day we took on the project. I did made-to-order items like burgers, chicken sandwiches, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese. I have no idea how we were able to make it happen but we did.
Catering Lil’ Kim’s birthday party with Republic Records was also a dope opportunity because I looked up to her as a young person. To get called on the fly to do her birthday party was paramount to my career.
Photos: José A. Alvarado Jr.
SD: I’ve come into their lives not asking anything of them, other than being a part of their process. A lot of famous people think that money is everything but I am there to pour into them and not judge them. The soul food part was about making really great food but also to minister to them where they are.
This food can actually heal you. It healed me. Soul food for me is not the cuisine. It isn’t macaroni and cheese and fried chicken. I believe soul food is the experience. The experience in preparation. So infusing different types of herbs and putting in different types of spices that heal. And really the soul is what needs to be nourished.
I met Cappadonna one day as I was sitting outside of the studio. I asked him to come inside so that I could interview him for my podcast, and he did it with no hesitation.
I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet Ghostface [Killah] by working with other people in the industry, to cater for Method Man because I’m very good friends with his manager, to meet Raekwon through a mutual friend. It’s really cool, because I grew up with Wu-Tang culture.
Wu-Tang Clan mural, painted by Will Power
SD: I’m an eighth-generation direct descendant to the first free Black man [Captain John Jackson] to purchase property on Staten Island. He gave enslaved people the opportunity to seek freedom in the Sandy Ground community.
He was an oysterman and a captain of his own ship. He also operated the ferry system for Staten Island that went into New Jersey and the city of New York.
That is so powerful. I’m paying homage to my ancestors because I know that they opened up that door, feeding others, helping others.