A national chain is bringing its soul food to Utah

Celebrity’s Soul Food Bistro, serving food with a casual vibe, set to open in Draper,

A business that calls itself the only national soul food chain in the country is coming to Utah.

Celebrity’s Soul Food Bistro is scheduled to open Thursday, Sept. 8, at 487 E. 12300 South, Draper. The chain got its start in Florida in 2020, launched by Fredrick and Taja Jacobs, who previously ran a catering business that served such notable clients as Oprah Winfrey, Monica, Ashanti and Steve Harvey.

The Draper location will be the second franchise in the chain, after the flagship restaurant in Ocala, Florida. A third restaurant, in Memphis, Tenn., is slated to open next week.

The Draper restaurant will be bistro-style, a more casual version of the chain’s full-service restaurants. Instead of sit-down dining with servers, the bistro concept features a walk-up counter.

The franchisees, Utah residents Scott and Anissa Hargraves, started planning the rollout of the bistro in September 2019, but had to put their plans on hold during the pandemic.

(Courtesy of Celebrity's Soul Food) Seafood pineapple bowl from Celebrity's Soul Food.

“What they’re proposing to do is something that’s not really been done in Utah before,” Scott Hargraves said. “The company is bringing authentic soul food to the masses, in an environment that’s a little bit upscale and a little bit casual at the same time.”

Because Utah traditionally has not had a lot of soul food restaurants — though Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen, at 877 E. 12300 South in Draper, about four blocks away, is a notable exception — familiarizing people with Southern and soul food will be “a big education piece,” Hargreaves said. The menu features what he describes as “the classics”: whole chicken wings, smothered turkey wings, meatloaf, braised oxtail, fried catfish, fried chicken and barbecued chicken.

“We do a really cool gold-dusted hot wing,” he said. “You smother them and then you take the gold dust and they’re beautiful when they’re served.”

A number of the recipes, Hargraves said, are ones passed down through Frederick Jacobs’ family, including Dr. J’s mac ‘n’ cheese and the sweet potato souffle.

“I was out [in Florida] for some training a few months ago, and we had some questions about the sweetness and the sugar in the souffle,” he said. “So Dr. J. got on the phone, and called his mom.”

Desserts include a red velvet cake (both mini- and full versions) that are baked in-house and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The drinks include the requisite Southern sweet tea, as well as a green tea for those who prefer something a little less sweet.

Though it’s all from-scratch soul food, Anissa Hargraves said the menu also takes a 21st century approach to soul food, with gluten-free and plant-based dishes, including a vegan pulled barbecue jackfruit sandwich on a gluten-free bun, a vegan version of mac ‘n’ cheese, and a black-eyed pea ragout.

(Courtesy of Celebrity's Soul Food) Chocolate chip decadence bundt cake with chocolate frosting from Celebrity's Soul Food.

The Hargraves said that the big push right now is just to get the restaurant open, but that part of the business model with Celebrity’s is to support community organizations. Once they have the bistro humming along, they said, the plan is to begin giving part of the proceeds from the restaurant to an LGBTQ+ center, and to also support an organization for homeless youth. For the time being, though, after waiting to open for three years, the focus is on opening the doors — and joining the immediate restaurant community in Draper.

“We share a building with Five Guys Burgers. I went there to get a hamburger one day and meet the manager, and he said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you guys have chicken! People come in here all the time and they’re disappointed,’” she said. “We have chicken, and Five Guys has their niche, they do a great job. So there’s room for everybody.”

Celebrity’s Soul Food Bistro will hold its grand opening event on Thursday, September 8, from noon to 8 p.m. and will feature food samples and performances by saxophone player Kevin Flynn. The restaurant’s hours are Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.