There’s a new soul food place in town, which possibly is the only soul food eatery in the Cedar City.
Lil Sista’s Soul Food opened its doors a few weeks ago in the East High Street building that formerly housed Bonker’s Pizza. Owner Deangelo Weir concocted the restaurant’s motto: “Lil Sista’s is not just good food, it’s food for the soul.”
When it comes to good food and a good soul, the Lebanon native, 32, learned from the best, his great-grandmother, 86-year-old Annie Weir. She has been a cook most of her years and nurtured four generations of children with heart-felt love across the decades.
Deangelo named the restaurant in honor of the woman who raised him and taught him her recipes.
“Lil Sista is the nickname that everybody knows Mother by,” said the young restauranteur. “Great-grandmother adopted me when I was about 2 years old. My biological mom was young herself when I was born, so Mother took over the responsibility of raising me.
“I was born in Knoxville and raised in Lebanon in the Inman Court Projects. I came back here at three days old and have been here ever since,” said Deangelo, who has a brother and two sisters biologically but counts his great-grandmother’s six children as his siblings as well.
The food served at Lil Sista’s Soul Food is prepared from Mrs. Weir’s original recipes, which Deangelo knows by heart.
“Mother had always been a great cook. Every weekend she would host meals in our home and cook and my entire family would be there, and we would hold hands and pray around the table,” he recalled.
“When I was young, she pulled me up to the stove and told me that her grandmother did her the same way, and she showed me how to cook. When I turned about 13, I remember Mother fell ill, and I took on the cooking responsibilities. I pulled her in a wheelchair into the kitchen and she would tell me what to cook.
“One of her dreams was to open a restaurant. As I got older, I cooked her recipes and began to adopt more of her recipes and habits, and I thought, ‘Man, my mother’s recipes need to be displayed somewhere so people could taste them.’
“Four or five years ago, my sister said, ‘Now, brother, when are you going to open that restaurant?’ I told her I planned to do it in 2020, and, thanks to God, it fell that way. I took it and ran with it,” said Deangelo, who began with a soft opening on Oct. 18.
The decision to start a new restaurant at a time when multitudes of eateries have shut down across the country seemed precarious at best, but Deangelo had no fear.
“The love I had for my mother’s recipes has lived embedded in me so much that when I opened up the restaurant, the virus didn’t even exist to me. That’s how sure I was of her recipes,” he shared.
A staff of family
Deangelo was fortunate to be able to staff the restaurant with mostly family members.
“There are 17 of us working here and all are family with the exception of two who have been around so long we call them family. These include uncles, aunts and cousins. We have five generations working in the restaurant,” Deangelo said, noting his daughters, Jameice, 11, and Jaidyce, 9, are servers.
Defining the food and the atmosphere in the diner, which seats 50, he said, “We cook with love. We never take anything out of the boxes. We put time, effort and love into everything we serve our guests. We are family oriented so we believe we have the most genuine and friendliest place you will ever run into. That is how we were raised. What we been given through our mother, we vowed to give that to others. We just call it like grandmama made it, good cooking.”
Deangelo shares the cooking chores with his aunts, Debbie Weir-Rhodes and Evonda Shannel, saying, “Everybody who came under Lil Sista’s wings knows how to cook as well.”
Asked to describe how her mother would like the place, daughter Debbie said, “She would be excited, very happy, so uplifted. When I was young, probably 8 years old, she would have me in the kitchen with her doing something. She’s always been a cook.
“She’s sweet, loving and caring. When she wasn’t cooking, she was making homemade ice cream and cool cups for all the children on hot days,” said Debbie, whose daughter, Kay, and granddaughter, Ciera, are hostesses here, while great-granddaughter Haven, 8, is a greeter.
Building the restaurant dream
Deangelo, who graduated from Lebanon High School in 2007 and earned a degree in theology at American Baptist College in Nashville, managed Lebanon’s Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn and their restaurants for two years.
He has served as minister of music, choir director, usher, drummer and singer at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, located less than 100 yards down the street from the restaurant, where he, his great-grandmother and her family have been members of the congregation all their lives.
Music also flows at the restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights and some Sundays with country music performed by the Pickett Family and blues tunes played by guitarist Yalen Reed.
Deangelo, who confessed he’s addicted to sweet tea, mentioned that they sell 25-30 gallons a day of Lil Sista’s fruit tea. He said that about 60 percent of their business is take-out, adding, “The crowd we’ve been getting has been exceptional.
“To be able to do what my mother has always done and what she instilled in me, to see it come to pass under my leadership is simply amazing, a blessing from God,” said the soul food man.
Lil Sista’s Soul Food
Lil Sista’s Soul Food claims to be Lebanon’s premier soul food spot for homestyle lunch and dinner items “that taste like Nana made them.”
Location: 300 East High St.,
Menu: Meats served include chicken and dressing, baked chicken, meat loaf, pork chops, honey-glazed ham, BBQ ribs and barbequed pulled pork. Featured vegetables are turnip greens, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, macaroni and cheese, squash casserole, hash-brown casserole, mashed potatoes and cream-styled corn. Among desserts are yellow cake with caramel icing, pecan pie, chess pie, chocolate pie, banana pudding and red-velvet cake.
Cost: A meat-and-two with drink and tax is $14.75; meat-and-three with drink and tax is $17.45. Desserts are $3.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Phone: (615) 547-4565.