Bistro opening at Bethlehem Center in Chattanooga's Alton Park

Bistro opening at Bethlehem Center in Chattanooga's Alton Park

October 27th, 2011 by Yolanda Putman in News

Alfred Johnson, left, and Michael Johnson, right, bow their heads in prayer Wednesday before enjoying their meal from the Bistro at the Bethlehem Center off West 28th Street. For $6.99, patrons can enjoy "as much as they care to eat." The bistro will have its grand opening on Nov. 4.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

GRAND OPENING EVENTS

What: Bistro at the Bethlehem Center grand opening Nov. 4

* 11 a.m.: Lunch at $6.99

* Noon: Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting; meet soul food historian Adrian Miller

* 6:30 p.m.: Soul food tasting dinner

* 7 p.m.: "The History of Soul Food" talk featuring Miller

Where: Bistro at the Bethlehem Center, 200 W. 38th St.

Cost: Donation for the soul food tasting dinner (Reservations required. Call 423-266-1384, ext. 32)

Chef of the Beth City Bistro, Roy Newton hugs Thelma Woods as she scoops out food from the buffet table inside of the bistro located at the Bethlehem Center off of W. 28th St. For $6.99, patrons can enjoy "as much as they care to eat." The bistro will have its grand opening on Nov. 4. Newton, who is a vegetarian, strives to cook up healthy southern-styled food for patrons.

Chef of the Beth City Bistro, Roy Newton...

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

Hattie Moon,left, Hal Bowling, center, and Thelma Woods, right, eat their food while Fay Collier, who lives at Alton Park, brings them their drinks Wednesday at the Beth Center Bistro. For $6.99, patrons can enjoy "as much as they care to eat." The bistro will have its grand opening on Nov. 4.

Hattie Moon,left, Hal Bowling, center, and Thelma Woods,...

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

Alton Park lacks access to grocery stores, commercial development and jobs, but the South Chattanooga community has hope and a vision.

Bethlehem Center Executive Director Lurone "Coach" Jennings and restaurant general manager Charmane Goins are partnering to bring the community the Bistro at the Bethlehem Center on 38th Street.

The restaurant will celebrate its grand opening Nov. 4.

"We feel like this is an opportunity," said Jennings. "You have a community that's really in need and wants to transform to become a self-sufficient neighborhood."

Goins said the eatery gives the community soul food with a healthy twist. On a recent visit, sweet corn, chicken and dressing, macaroni and cheese, and greens simmered in hot metal warmers while fish cooked in the kitchen.

The restaurant began serving food this summer. The Bistro is among afterschool programs and tutoring programs offered to Alton Park residents at the Bethlehem Center.

"It's good. It's good," said St. John Baptist Church pastor Delford Hughley after sampling the buffet meal for the first time this week.

He plans to schedule his meetings and fellowships with other ministers there.

"We want this to be successful. It's right here in the community," said Hughley, whose church is in Alton Park.

Bistro at the Bethlehem Center provided five people with jobs, including two Alton Park residents, chefs Roy Newton and Fay Collier.

Collier, who lives in the Villages at Alton Park, went through the Bethlehem Center's business training class and operates her own catering service out of the Bistro after hours.

Newton, who specializes in vegetarian dishes, wants eventually to become a medical health professional who can help people overcome illnesses such as hypertension through diet and natural remedies.

The Bistro also employs 22-year-old Kiarra Ervin, who has attended the Bethlehem Center since age 7. She graduated magna cum laude at Tusculum College with a bachelor's in accounting and wants to become a certified public accountant.

"This is giving me an opportunity to develop my accounting skills," said Ervin, who operates the cash register and does the restaurant's financial paperwork.

Within the next five years, Goins said, he envisions hiring more than a dozen people from Alton Park and the surrounding community.

"If you give people jobs, they have hope and they see the benefits of supporting their families," he said.

Adrian Miller, a former special assistant to former president Bill Clinton and a culinary historian, will visit the Bistro for its grand opening and give a presentation about the history of soul food.

Miller, a graduate of Stanford University and Georgetown University Law School, is writing a soul-food history that is scheduled to be published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2013.

Miller's mother, Johnetta Solomon Miller, and several of his family members live in Chattanooga.

Miller said the increasing rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertenstion among some blacks could be the result of eating more refined and processed foods, such as white flour and sugar, instead of traditional soul food.

"Soul food can be healthy," Miller said. "If you look at the list of superfoods used to prevent cancer, a lot of them are the building blocks of soul food like dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes and nuts."