Since she was 10 years old Theresa Barnes has dreamed about having her own restaurant. Learning family recipes working in the kitchen with her grandmother and mother in Sierra Leone in West Africa she was already planning for her restaurant. Just weeks ago, Theresa’s dream came true and she and her family opened the doors to Eden Spice on Dixie Drive in West Carrollton, next to Holly’s Home Cooking. The menu is a blend of African and Caribbean specialties like red snapper, curry goat, oxtail and mango ginger chicken. You can pick your heat, form mild, spicy or African hot on many of the dishes.
Since I’m not very familiar with African food, I asked Samyatta, Theresa’s 20 year old daughter who was working the counter, for her recommendations. Their 13 year old daughter Samenhah also helps out on the weekends. I ended up trying the jerk goat with jollof rice (a Nigerian staple that is flavored with Maggie) and fried red snapper with plantains and red beans and rice. You can see the entire menu here.
While I was waiting for my food to be cooked, everything is made from scratch here, nothing sitting in steam tables, Samyatta shared with me about her Mom’s dream to open the restaurant. She shared with me how for the last couple of years her mom had been cooking and perfecting her recipes and feeding everyone they knew, taking dishes to her job at Synchrony (where she still works part time) and even knocking on strangers doors to have them try her food.
After cooking my food Theresa joined me in the dining room sharing her joy in finally being to live her dream with the restaurant. She and her teenage sweetheart Sam married and came to America about 25 years ago.
She’s been working with her cousin, who has catering contract with schools in Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton for the last few years, always talking about her desire to have a restaurant. Finally her cousin Florence told her she had located the perfect spot for Theresa’s restaurant. The location was a former Subway restaurant in West Carrolton and Theresa just knew it was the perfect place. She still does catering out of the kitchen, cooking breakfast and lunch, delivering about 700 meals to 3 area schools.
Theresa told me about her decision to serve the snapper with the head on, staying true to herself, knowing that many Americans might not eat it, but that the head is the best part of the dish for her and back home they eat it all, including the eyes. I wasn’t quite brave enough to eat the head, but did enjoy the snapper, using a fork to pull the meat off the bones, and then flipping it over to enjoy the other side.
She’ll continue to make those meals as she grows her business, serving lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, but never on Sunday, as that’s the day she and her family dedicate to their Far Hills church family. She explained to me how the menu came about with the African recipes, which feature spicy and salty flavors, and lots of Thyme, and green onions, while the Caribbean entrees tend to be sweeter, with both cuisines including a lot of rice. Goat was the most common meat in her African home, and the meat she is serving at Eden Spice is Hallal, lawful to eat according to traditional Islamic law. While she was raised in a Christian home, some of her extended family were Muslim and she wants to make sure her restaurant is welcoming to all. Which is why she also offers baked chicken as well as wings, and steak kabobs. Serving Vimto, an African soda made from juice of grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants, flavored with herbs and spices is a nod to a treat from her childhood.
As we were talking she was pulling together her fresh produce and spices to make her jerk seasoning and emphasized how all her meals are based on family recipes and made from scratch. She has to travel to the African store in Columbus to get many of her spices. As business picks up she has plans to offer more African specials on the weekends and is also looking forward to doing catering.
Theresa’s parting words to me were that in her culture they didn’t give physical gifts often, but instead they shared their love by cooking for others and she is looking forward to sharing that love with the Miami Valley.
501 E. Dixie Drive Dayton, Ohio 45449
Tuesday – Friday: 11-8pm