Hazel Pearl Barron, a former Sacramento restaurateur who served up soul food favorites for locals and visiting celebrities for many years, died Dec. 10 of pancreatic cancer, her daughter said. She was 82.
Mrs. Barron had lost her job as a bartender when she opened H&B Cafe at Broadway and Fourth Avenue around 1985. She started her own business after working in restaurants in Arizona and in food service at the former Sacramento County Hospital.
“I had to think of something to do, and my mother had made sure I knew how to cook,” she told The Sacramento Bee in 1992. “It’s always been difficult to get people to try soul food – but since I knew a lot of people from tending bar and helping cater parties, my business got off the ground.”
Mrs. Barron’s stewed oxtails, fried chicken, seasoned greens and peach cobbler made H&B Cafe a dining landmark in the capital for almost 20 years. Patrons followed her as the restaurant moved to Stockton Boulevard and then to Broadway and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
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“She was known as the queen of soul food in Sacramento,” said Bishop Parnell M. Lovelace Jr. of Center of Praise Ministries. “People came from all over to eat her food.”
Besides cooking, Mrs. Barron welcomed customers and ran the operation with her husband, James, and daughter Joan Patton. She greeted regulars as if they were family and hosted many famous visitors, including civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, singers Stevie Wonder and Bobby Brown, hip-hop trio Salt-N-Pepa and members of the Temptations.
“A lot of the Kings players came, and whatever team came into town to play them,” Patton said. “Bobby Brown was probably her favorite. He was a really nice guy, and when he did his concert he gave the restaurant a few plugs.”
Born in 1932 in Kemp, Texas, Mrs. Barron learned to cook from her mother, an African American woman who often cooked in the homes of white families. She moved to Phoenix with her family and settled in Sacramento in 1957.
At her H&B Cafe, she adapted to healthier eating habits by frying with oil instead of lard and adding baked chicken next to fried chicken on the menu. But she never skimped on flavor or service, Patton said.
“Her food was really excellent,” her daughter said. “She really cared about how it was prepared and how it was presented. She always used quality foods.”
Mrs. Barron was predeceased by her husband. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by one grandchild, three great-grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A funeral was held Dec. 18.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.