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Soul Food Restaurant Serves Up Hearty Eats With a Side of Worship

By Wendell Hutson | March 11, 2013 8:15am

CHATHAM — Every Tuesday, St. Rest#2 Country Kitchen is doing more than feeding customers. It's also serving religion and saving souls with its St. Rest Outreach Ministries.

From 7 to 9 p.m., the 100-seat banquet room at 787 E. 87th St. is used as a church sanctuary for 30 members, who clap their hands and stomp their feet to the rhythm of drums and singing.

"St. Rest Outreach Ministries was born from St. Rest Missionary Baptist Church, which no longer exists as far as brick and mortar, but spiritually in heart it remains," said Daniella Coffey, 33, who manages the 150-seat restaurant with her parents.

"Once we close the [back] doors you really can't hear us that much. You'd be surprised how many customers will come back here after eating to join us in service."

Coffey's dad, the Rev. Larry Hopkins, is the pastor of the church and founder of the restaurant.

"God made it happen for me," said Hopkins, who first started the restaurant in 1981 in North Lawndale. "That was St. Rest#1 Country Kitchen. After it closed I opened No. 2 over here in 1983. That's all I remember."

Buy Coffey's memory goes back much further.

"My dad has always been a good cook and when he came to Chicago from Mississippi with $2 in his pocket he had a vision for what he wanted to do," she said. "And since we've been here there have been other soul food restaurants [that have] come and gone, but we're still here."

The community lost two other soul food restaurants in the past three years. In 2010, Izola's, 522 E. 79th St., closed, followed by Army & Lou's, 422 E. 75th St., which closed in 2011.

The second Saturday of each month at 6 p.m., Coffey leads a women's group at the restaurant.

"We deal with various issues pertaining to women and show how to deal with these issues while remaining spiritually grounded," Coffey said.

And with a desire to someday become a registered nurse and start a family with her husband, an engineer for the Chicago Fire Department, Coffey said she is still wrestling with her future.

"I am here all the time when I am not in [nursing] school, and it's hard just to spend time with my husband," Coffey said. "Six of my siblings have worked here before but were fired by my dad, who is one tough cookie to work for. But I do not want to leave knowing he dedicated his life to building up this business."

When dining in at the restaurant, which also offers carry-out service, customers have a variety of menu choices, from hearty breakfast options to fried chicken, catfish and turkey.

The food selection is one reason why Carolyn Moses has been eating there for the past 25 years.

"I come here on a regular basis for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is good, the prices are fair and the service is excellent," said the 55-year-old owner of Paris Hair Weave Salon on the South Side.

Marie Peguess had never eaten at the restaurant before. But that will change.

"This was my first time here and every thing was lovely. A polite staff that waited on us hand and foot. I will be back," Peguess added.