RICHMOND, Va. -- Ms. Girlee’s Kitchenin the heart of Richmond's Fulton Hill features beloved and familiar family recipes that make it a home away from home for many.
"I named the restaurant after my grandmother, just know she would be proud and everybody that eats my food is my family, so come on home," Helen Holmes, who is known to many as Ms. Girlee, said.
Those recipes come from Holmes' late grandmother, Girlee Francis Crump.
She named dishes from her menu after streets and landmarks in the neighborhood.
"We have the Carlisle combo, and Carlisle Avenue is right out there, the Government Road combo, but we call it the gov-ment road combo, and then we have the Darbytown double," Holmes said. "All of them really, the meatloaf is my grandmother’s recipe, the salmon cakes, everything we use is either my mom’s, my brother’s or my grandmother’s recipe."
Holmes calls her meals comfort food, but her beginnings were far from comfortable.
"When I got ready to open, it was a mess, it needed major plumbing, electrical, fire suppression system, and I was out of money," Holmes said.
Faced with financial roadblocks, she poured every penny she had into her entrepreneurial dream.
"I cashed in my 401K from a previous job, a life insurance policy my entire savings, I hired some people to do some work, they never finished and I was out of money," Holmes said. "So I had a fish fry in the parking lot."
Her pop-up fish fry became so popular, customers crossed state lines for a taste.
"We did a fish fry and people came from as far as North Carolina, New York, they came to support my efforts," she said. "The line was wrapped around the building."
Fueled with family recipes, and pure passion, Holmes and her team served food from the parking lot for two years, before taking up residence in the building on Parker Street in March 2020.
The neighborhood welcomed Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen to her new home, which was a spot that fed the community for many years.
"I really enjoy making people happy," Holmes said. "Food makes people happy."
Holmes said she let the business consume her with some very long hours, and yes, some tears.
"I went through a deep depression, had a stroke, last year in April. Yeah, they didn’t think I was going to pull through," Holmes recalled.
But her team kept the restaurant functioning in her absence, but Ms. Girlee stayed busy too.
"I was booking catering events from my hospital bed, and I finally came back in two months," Holmes said.
"Comfort" food is something Holmes knows well. Those comforting ways have led to important community projects.
"Every Thanksgiving we open up our restaurant and give away 150 meals," Holmes said.
As one of the 40 restaurants participating in the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, Holmes is following in her grandmother’s footsteps.
"She cooked every day. Not only did she cook for us, but she also cooked for all the kids in the neighborhood," Holmes said.
Ms. Girlee has become known as the neighborhood chef, but in memory of Girlee Francis Crump, she doesn't mind the title.
"Grandmother of the neighborhood," Holmes said. "It brings me joy because I did it, I have a restaurant, and I know my grandmother would be proud."
Ms. Girlee’s kitchen is in Fulton near Government Road. The restaurant is hosting a Fish Fry on Saturday from 12-5 p.m. at 4809 Parker Street in Richmond.
The Richmond Black Restaurant Experience is Sunday, March 6 through Sunday, March 13. It kicks off with Mobile Soul Sunday in Monroe Park Sunday.
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