Welcome back to Up-and-Comers, a monthly column from Megan Hill dedicated to the rising stars of Seattle's food and drink scene.
Mother-and-daughter duo Barbara and Lillian Rambus opened Simply Soulful Cafe in Madison Valley this past March, basing much of their Southern soul food menu on family recipes. Eater caught up with Lillian to learn more about the restaurant, the cornerstone of which is her grandmother's sweet potato pie recipe. Barbara and Lillian found success selling their pies at area farmers markets and local stores like Central Co-op and Ken's Market.
The cafe's menu (and that of the family's catering company) is loaded with Southern comfort food classics, like chicken and waffles, red beans and rice, biscuits and gravy, pot pies and sweet tea. And of course, there's always plenty of freshly-baked pie on hand.
How did the restaurant come about?
When we started out, we were wholesaling pies. My mom and I started selling them at the farmers markets in 2011 using my grandmother's recipe for sweet potato pie. And then it eventually evolved into us getting into stores. My mom was going to retire this year and so we started looking for places to open up a small cafe, found a space, and that's how that happened.
Are you still selling pies in other stores?
We still have distribution of pies to five stores, still do some local farmers market, and of course we sell pies at the cafe.
Apart from the pies, do you all rely on a lot of other family recipes?
We do, actually. A lot of our recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, like our Hen and Dressing is one of my grandmother's recipes that we used to always eat at Thanksgiving. I guess we took for granted eating all that good food growing up. I thought everybody ate like that!
Was your grandmother from the south?
She's from West Point, Mississippi and they moved to Spokane in 1967 I believe. My grandmother was a country girl and she was really into urban farming. Her front yard was fruit trees and the backyard was her garden. It trips me out when I see all this talk about urban gardening because I'm like, "Oh my god, my grandmother probably had the first urban garden in Spokane!" And it was huge. My grandmother stayed in Spokane until she retired and then she moved to Seattle.
So the pies are your signature thing. What else is popular at your cafe?
We're also known for our buttermilk biscuits now that the cafe is open. We do our breakfast biscuit sandwiches and our barbeque sandwiches on the biscuit. We have a buttermilk and a garlic cheddar which is kind of like a Red Lobster roll. We also do peach cobbler, mixed berry pie, pecan pie, and seasonal pies like red velvet and apple crunch.
What is your background?
I actually have a background in accounts receivable. My last job before I started working for myself doing the restaurant I worked for the Division of Child Support at the state of Washington doing child support enforcement. Our team is pretty unusual in that we also have my mom who has a background in marketing. She worked for Costco for a long time. And then we also have Craig who is an aerospace engineer who no longer wanted to do that and just had a joy of baking, so a lot of us are just passionate about what we do. None of us went to culinary school. We're just passionate about what we do and we're on this exciting adventure.
Simply Soulful Cafe. 2909-B East Madison Avenue, Madison Valley. Official Site. (206) 474-9841. Tues - Fri 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sat 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.