A freedom-focused soul food grocer
"This all started with an idea and a dream of simply being free.”
Those aren’t always the words one associates with the opening of a grocery store, but such is the basis of Chef Jonny Rhodes’ evolving concept for neo-soul food. The Houston chef and food activist draws upon the history, culture and social experiences of African Americans of past and present to inform all of his work across the culinary and agricultural world.
Bringing homegrown homemade soul food straight to the people has always been the plan — and while pivots amid the shifting pandemic landscape are necessary, nothing has or could derail Rhodes’ vision. Food and hospitality don’t begin with a dining experience, rather with the lands that grow ingredients, producers and retailers, all of which he is seeking to develop and control across his businesses.
Jonny Rhodes and his wife Chana opened Indigo restaurant in 2018, which gained critical acclaim and was named as one of TIME magazine’s World’s Greatest Places for 2019 – the same year Rhodes was a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist, and a year after he won Eater’s Chef of the Year. He uses the menu to talk about food justice in a neighborhood directly impacted by food apartheid, an emphatic term intentionally used in place of food desert.
Dishes speak for themselves with names like Afrofuturist, Cornrows and Convictions, If Earth Could Talk, If Marcus Garvey (a nod to the Black nationalist, political organizer and Pan-African leader) and Descendants of Igbo (a reference to ancestors taken from modern day Nigeria in the transatlantic slave trade), openly challenging racism and oppression. According to Rhodes, the “fight to eat right” affects all peoples, especially those who lack funds to purchase quality food or land upon which to grow it.
In April, the Rhodes opened Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries, something that had long been in the pipeline, but was sped up to answer a need during Coronavirus, while also keeping kitchen staff employed by preparing foods for the retail shop.
“This project wasn’t due to launch until the fall, but our people need us NOW,” the chef writes, underscoring the urgency of the project, an iterative process he shares on Instagram as it shifts and grows daily.
The mission remains the same: to combat food inequality in the local community and nation, addressing systems-change and activating a wider audience than can enjoy his nightly tasting menu at one communal table (now limited to just 10 individuals when the restaurant reopens with social distancing guidelines) — by encouraging people to cook at home with products that meet his high standards and ethics, come from local farms and food purveyors, and could be or would be on his fine dining menu.
Everything at the grocer is made in-house and sourced from within 150 miles. They sold the one tongue of their only cow in early June: a black Angus beef tongue pastrami for $17.38. Brined sirloin marinated in okra seed espresso BBQ sauce is available, as well as Tomahawk steaks in butternut squash, oysters and grapefruit. Bacon, cracklins, breakfast sausage, pork chops and prime cuts come from the fresh hog. On the shelves are also kumquat preserves, butters and condiments, Creole pickles, okra seed coffee ice cream, pastries and breads, fermented strawberry and citrus sodas, wellness drinks, infused oils, and farm fresh fruits and vegetables.
Increasing quantities of goods, produce and ingredients come from their own Food Fight Farms, with the hope of being 100% sustainable and providing everything at the full-fledged Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries, set to open in a larger space in the same neighborhood by Juneteenth 2021 — a retailer he feels the community deserves. Deforestation, chicken coops, pig pens and more are already underway on the farm, with more to come as the family-owned business raises money via GoFundMe and employs people in the local community.
Not only is Rhodes committed to ensuring his children’s generation has more access to food and fewer struggles with hunger, but he also hopes that the example of Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries — from seed to sale, nose to tail — inspires people of all ages and backgrounds to both grow and prepare their own food.