‘Soulified’ food that’s healthy, too
“We’re a female, family-owned business,” said Kathleen Johnson who works alongside her daughters Kelli “Lavender” Johnson and Ordia “Sage” Drew to manage Wholesoul a Lavender & Sage Eatery. The talented “Soulified Crew” work as a collective to create healthier versions of soul food.
Kelli “Lavender” Johnson focuses on creating exquisite baked goods. Although she is very involved in the business, her passion is baking, and she owns Lavender Treats. All the food they create incorporates fresh and organic ingredients that make the soul food and delectable desserts, simply outstanding.
They began offering their food from a food truck, but now customers can find them at Driftwood Char Bar in Minneapolis on Thursdays and Fridays to order pick-up.
Unfortunately, like many other Black-owned businesses, the COVID pandemic has negatively impacted their livelihood. Johnson said, “We basically started over. The whole COVID thing has wiped us out as far as energy is concerned. We’ll do it as safely as we can. We have social distance space.” Although unexpected setbacks have sprouted, the family embodies a spirit of resiliency.
There’s an interesting backstory of Wholesoul Eatery. The journey began at Arnellia’s in 2014. Johnson recalled, “Arnellia lost her cook—We wanted to get in the food business and focus on introducing healthier versions.”
She added, “I offered to run the kitchen at Arnellia’s,” and that’s when she started cooking. Johnson humbly acknowledges Arnellia Allen, who passed away from cancer in 2017, as her mentor.
Allen owned Arnellia’s Nightclub and made history as the first African American woman to own a bar in St. Paul. “Arnellia taught me a lot about running a food business,” Johnson said. “From there, in 2015, we had the opportunity to take an entrepreneur’s course at Neighborhood Development Center (NDC).”
At that time, she was offered a chance to debut her soul food at Prince’s Paisley Park After Dark. “That particular opportunity stems from our family ties to Prince. Kirk Johnson [a former Prince associate] is my brother, a drummer.”
She was thrilled to have an opportunity. “We were in Prince’s kitchen. We were able to get help from NDC, Neon, and the Black Chamber of Commerce,” Johnson said.
The financial support helped them prepare to present their food at Paisley Park. She disclosed that Prince loved their signature “mac & cheese, pancakes, and turtle cheesecake.”
The sandwich menu boasts names like Catfish Sammich, Kat Snack, Remoulade Po Boy Bun Catfish Sammie, and/or FIIES Clucker Sammie, LBEST Smashed Cheeseburger, Mary Tyler Moore, P.R.N “Prince Rogers Nelson,” and/or the Wholesoul Sampler.
The “Soulified Sides” include Mac & 8 Real Cheeses, Louisiana-style red beans & rice, greens w/ smoked turkey, candied yams, mashed potatoes, buttery broiled asparagus, honey butter bacon brussels, and specialty seasoned fries.
Lavender’s Treats offers incredible dessert options. All products are made with organic ingredients. Customers can enjoy such items as the classic 7 Up Pound Cake, and Curl Crusty Peach Cobbler.
Johnson shared that her dear friend Carol Williams served as the inspiration behind their signature dessert called the “Curls Crusty Peach Cobbler.” She was her musical mom and manager.
When Johnson isn’t cooking up soul food, she enjoys singing on stage and helping others do the same. She is the founder of the Musicians 4 Musicians organization.
Many may not know that Johnson was also musically connected to Prince in the early 1990s. As a professional vocalist, “I sang in the studio and on tour with him on recordings—backup vocals,” Johnson recalled.
Johnson would lay down background vocals on songs written by Prince that were later used by other artists. The repertoire of artists included Monie Love, Jevetta Steele, Tevin Campbell, Carmen Electra, Mayte, Lois Lane, and more.
She elaborated, “I’m a mentor; I mentor up and coming artists. We developed a live music series,” Johnson said. They’ve performed at upscale venues like the Dakota Jazz Club, Bunkers, and Crooners.
Most recently, Johnson launched a musical project that pays homage to Etta James. She recently covered the legend’s songs at Crooners Supper Club.
Johnson stressed the need to support Black-owned businesses. “We’re legit. When we have that platform and support, success is going to happen,” said Johnson.
She continued with a word of advice for other would-be entrepreneurs. “Find a mentor or mentors, any positive light, and go to it. Be encouraged on what is tried and true.” She added, “Be in the circle where the energy feels right.”
Wholesoul A Lavender & Sage Eatery at Driftwood Char Bar is located at 4415 Nicollet Avenue South in Minneapolis. They offer pick-up service on Thursdays & Fridays from 4 to 8:30 pm.
The restaurant is currently offering a Happy Hour special, $4 OFF Kat Snacks, from 4-5 pm. Also, patrons can enjoy 15% off first-time orders by using the “Shop Now” button on the eatery’s Facebook page @WholesoulMN.
Customers are encouraged to pre-order, so the meal is ready at time of pickup.
For more info, call 952-200-4903 or visit www.wholesouleatery.com.
For more info on Musicians 4 Musicians, visit www.musicians4musicians.com.
Ashley Lauren is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder.