Civic leaders, community partners, neighbors, friends, family and clergy recently packed Cornbread‘s second floor to celebrate the official opening of Maplewood’s new “farm to table” soul food restaurant. While the event featured a traditional ribbon cutting, the gathering took on the tone of a family reunion, festive lunch and spiritual ceremony.
“I was raised in a village where running water was not a luxury we had,” said co-owner Adenah Bayoh, who settled with her family in New Jersey after leaving war-torn Liberia when she was 13 years old. And while the introductory speeches were focused on her passionate approach to ownership, Bayoh lauded her entire team as well as co-owner Elzadie “Zadie” Smith.
“As a young, black woman trying to make this business work, you are a role model to me. I have learned that love is sometimes the best solution,” Bayoh said of her co-owner.
Smith and Bayoh have been fine-tuning their menu since Cornbread’s soft opening on October 16. “Having the soft opening was the best decision we could make,” Bayoh told Village Green. “We had a huge to-do list. The community has been amazing and so forgiving as they watched us go through growing pains. The other day, two older ladies came up to me and said, ‘It’s ok, take your time.'”
Originally from Tifton, Georgia, Smith credits her family for her love of cooking. Her father owned the Alpine Restaurant in her hometown. “I guess it’s in your genes,” she said. However, this is Smith’s first venture into the restaurant world. She owns daycare centers in both Summit and East Orange. “I had to wait 70 years to do this,” she added.“I’m a little disruptive in how I make soul food.”
Of course, Bayoh wanted to make sure they got their eponymous menu item right. “We tried three recipes for the cornbread,” she explained. “I want to limit sugar as much as I can. We’ve been playing with a lot with honey.” Their experiments have yielded much success. “The beautiful thing about this cornbread is that the texture is not hard and the honey butter is amazing.” After we tried a sample, we concur with Bayoh’s description.
“We have been experimenting with everything in our arsenal,” she continued. “We decided to get rid of the pork chops and brisket and we’ll have some weekends-only items. Our catfish and whiting are best sellers so far. And we have the best fried chicken on the market. The pressure cookers give it the perfect amount of moisture.”
“I am thinking about the future of soul food,” Bayoh continued. “I’m a little disruptive in how I make soul food. If you look how we’re serving it — with kiosk ordering — we’re going to have a fast casual atmosphere and also have the warmth of soul food. I don’t eat food from the can, so I don’t want my customers to be served anything from a can.”“We got stuck with the right one.”
“I love Adenah,” said Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., County Executive of Essex County. “Whatever she touches turns to gold.”
Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca explained that communal enthusiasm for Cornbread has been present on social media throughout the development of the restaurant. “I can tell you I’ve been posting about this for six months,” he said. “And it always gets the most likes.”
Restaurant designer Jeff Cahill explained that his team created design concepts for three separate locations before plans were solidified for 1565 Springfield Avenue location. “We got stuck with the right one,” he said, as Bayoh smiled. “Every once in awhile, you’re able to work with a very special client,” Cahill added. “We’re better off having you as a client.”
Before moving outside for the ribbon cutting, Bayoh spoke of the support from her parents, husband, children, “aunties” and religious community throughout the creation of cornbread. “Let’s bless this place,” she said.
Reverand Dr. Evans L. Spagner of Fountain Baptist Church in Summit did the honors. Heads bowed as he blessed the business.
The ribbon was cut. Pictures were taken. And then they ate.
Cornbread is located at 1565 Springfield Avenues, near Boyden Avenue. Contact them at 973-371-2222.