RICHMOND, Va. -- Tucked away in a small Richmond shopping center off Hull Street, there is a woman cooking up soul food and smiles.
At Ma Michele’s Cafe, Michele Wilson has been putting the “soul” in soul food for the past five years.
The Philadelphia native said her dream of owning a restaurant began in her mother’s kitchen.
“I was very, very close to my mother," Wilson said. "She loved to cook, my grandmother loved to cook. That's how we socialize.”
Wilson worked in the corporate world as a mortgage specialist with Bank of America, but always felt she could do more in front of an oven than behind a desk.
“I went out on my own in 2010 and was at different locations," she said. "So being in the local flea market here in the plaza, the owner saw something in me and gave me an opportunity, he told me to pursue this location, which is what I did.”
The aesthetic culture within Ma Michele’s Cafe pays tribute to Wilson’s love of African-American artwork and her desire to give back to the community.
The walls of the cafe are covered with artwork by African-American artists from across Richmond.
“I'm very happy to say that and the artwork is for sale and 100% of the proceeds go back to the artist,” said Wilson.
Wilson said she learned how to cook from her mother and grandmother. She emphasized they not only passed down their recipes, but also their ability to make people smile.
Ma Michele’s Cafe will participate in the 2020 Richmond Black Restaurant Experience. It is an event Wilson said she saw as a great inspiration for future generations of black restaurateurs.
In 2019, the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience partnered with 28 black-owned restaurants, eateries, and food trucks. In 2020, that number jumped with more than 30.
“I think it's great that we all get together with our peers and share ideas, share the lessons, and experiences during that time, and even after, to bring attention to black-owned restaurants and culinary because we are underserved,” Wilson said. “And it is so good that we are recognized because there are some fantastic people out here doing some fantastic cooking and I love it.”
Wilson said she loved the opportunity to give back to the black community, and the Greater Richmond area. She said that she was happiest when people come from all over to enjoy her unique spin on soul food.
“I feel empowered," she said, "This is a great time for us to be in business. It's a great time for us to network and to pass the torch one to the next generation and see where they go.”
Ma Michele's Café is located at 10811 Hull Street Road.
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.
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