How does a restaurant capture the flavor of a neighborhood steeped in history that’s simultaneously more in flux than any other part of Sacramento?
Fixins Soul Kitchen went straight to the source: Oak Park residents’ family recipes. When the restaurant opens in St. Hope’s 40 Acres building around the end of July, someone’s grandma’s fried chicken or biscuits will share menu space with creations from executive chef Melvin “Boots” Johnson’s mind, said St. Hope CEO/president Jake Mossawir.
“It’ll truly be family, friends and Boots’ recipes, all mixed together,” Mossawir said. “To have a restaurant that reflects Oak Park culture and all the relationships that already exist here is kind of cool.”
The original vision for 40 Acres included a theater, a bookstore, a coffee shop, a barber shop and a restaurant, Mossawir said. While the others came together relatively quickly, the restaurant concept never quite landed — partially because there was no one to run it, partially because the space at 3428 3rd Ave. hadn’t been designed with a commercial kitchen in mind.
It housed office space, an art gallery and a few other businesses until 2018, when Phoenix-based Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles announced its intent to open after two years of negotiations with ex-Phoenix Suns basketball star, St. Hope founder and former Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson.
But Lo-Lo’s eventually backtracked on its franchising plans, Mossawir said, and the investment group decided a local concept would better appeal to Sacramento residents while allowing for more menu flexibility. Kevin Johnson will remain on as a Fixins’ investor similar to his backseat role in the recently reopened Oak Park Brewing Co. Lo-Lo’s did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A restaurant — specifically, one serving soul food — was essential to Johnson and the other 40 Acres founders, Mossawir said. There was no La Venadita, no T&R Taste of Texas Barbeque, no Arthur Henry’s Supper Club & Ruby Room when 40 Acres opened in 2003, or several years after for that matter.
Grains of sand from that food desert are still nestled in North Oak Park today: Vibe Health Bar is currently the only neighborhood place to serve breakfast plates during the week outside of the University of the Pacific’s campus. As a result, breakfast will be served all day at Fixins from the 8 a.m. opening until closure around 10 p.m. weekdays and later on weekends.
The neighborhood where Dunlap’s Dining Room became Sacramento’s first soul food restaurant nearly 90 years ago had fallen into a culinary depression by the early 2000s.
“There’s no doubt that Oak Park has changed over the years, but there’s certain elements to Oak Park that remain ... for all of our (40 Acres) tenants, we want to make sure that there’s a reflection of the history of the neighborhood,” Mossawir said.
Beyond Oak Park, the tepid soul food scene Kings forward Chris Webber once bemoaned has made strides but still pales in comparison to that of, say, Oakland, Mossawir said.
“Over the last few years you’ve had some other restaurants come online, but the city as a whole has never had as rich of a variety of soul food as other cities have had,” he said.
Time will tell how Fixins’ food compares to its competitors, but it can definitively claim to be the largest soul food restaurant in Sacramento. At 4,400 square feet with three kitchen lines, a private dining space and side patio, the restaurant can seat 230 people at one time, Mossawir said.
Fixins’ still-to-be-finalized menu will include soul food staples such as mac-and-cheese, collard greens, chicken-and-waffles, hot chicken sandwiches and wings as well as salads and a few of Boots Johnson’s “new school” concoctions, Mossawir said. A full, two-sided bar in the middle of the restaurant will have access from inside as well as the side patio.
A Compton native with “soul food” tattooed across his knuckles, Boots Johnson will oversee all menu choices while simultaneously doubling as executive chef/owner of Queens Bully in New York. The chef’s Memphis-style barbecue won the Food Network’s “Chopped” Grill Masters showdown last year, netting him $50,000.
Fixins’ hiring process remains ongoing, with preference shown to Sacramento High School students and second-chance workers, Mossawir said. To apply, email firstname.lastname@example.org.