BY KATHY NORCROSS WATTS
The pandemic and a pineapple upside-down cake pushed Quinta Ellis, an educator, to pursue her dream of opening a restaurant, even though she never baked a cake until COVID shut down the country.
“The first cake I ever made was for my mother-in-law in Maryland,” Ellis, 35, said. The family enjoyed it, and her niece encouraged her to make mini versions of the cakes and sell them. In quarantine, Ellis baked. She sold cakes as far away as Texas, packaged in a self-designed cooler with instructions on how to heat the brown sugar-Hennessey glaze.
During a visit to her family in Salisbury in 2020, Ellis learned that a bakery was for sale. Her extended family had experience in the food business through their Divine Catering company, which prepared food for many church banquets. While she was in college at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Ellis had helped with the administrative side of the business. She also earned her Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in social justice from Mercer University. She worked in education for a dozen years. Her two aunts partnered with her to purchase equipment for a new restaurant. “They’ve always been supportive,” Ellis said.
Ellis knew that she had a lot to learn. A Facebook ad for Providence Culinary Training (PCT), offered by Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, caught her attention.
During the 13-week class, students learn basic cooking methods and knife skills, and about baking and pastry making; soups, stocks and sauces; quantity food production; and catering. Students also complete Certification in ServSafe® sanitation and participate in a week-long internship placement.
Second Harvest’s new home at Whitaker Park in Winston-Salem will add state-of-the-art kitchen stations for students, a six-week hospitality server program, a three-week barista training program, and more, said Chef Daryl Pobanz, Director of Culinary Education. The Food Bank’s Providence Program recently received funding to award stipends to students, who will receive $150 per week to offset costs such as childcare, transportation, and household bills.
Ellis asked Providence Chefs to look at her restaurant blueprints and menu, and they gave her insights into running a business, trust-worthy vendors, and encouraged her creativity and confidence in the kitchen.
“She’s a very smart woman that has a strong drive to achieve her goals,” Pobanz said. “I admire that so much. I know she’ll do an amazing job with her shop.”
Ellis completed Providence Culinary Training in March 2022, after an internship at Sophie’s Cork & Ale in Lexington, where Owner-Chef John Wilson introduced her to what’s required to run your own restaurant.
A Grandmother’s Legacy
Ellis named her 2,000 square foot restaurant in memory of her grandmother Helen Ellis, who lived on Fleming Road.
“My grandmother is my heart,” Ellis said. “I will definitely bring in some of her recipes that I love. My grandmother was literally always in the kitchen. Even when she wasn’t cooking, she had a chair right beside the stove, and that’s where she sat. The whole concept is taking that love and feeling of family and bringing it into Fleming Street.”
Ellis will add her own twist to classic Southern dishes and regional favorites. Fleming Street will have standards each week, such as her signature strawberry cupcakes, and she will rotate special items, like her maple bacon cupcake with candied bacon. Saturday and Sunday will offer a curated brunch and cinnamon rolls. The restaurant menu includes beef tenderloin with herb butter gnocchi, vegan dishes, and more.
“Cooking is my love language,” Ellis said.
Ellis has created “Table 10,” a nonprofit to use food to build community. Incorporating her passion for social justice, she developed a curriculum that will use cooking to teach STEAM
(science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). She intends to teach people how to cook healthier and how to grow their own food to help close food insecurity gaps.
“Giving some form of education in the culinary world is really important to me,” Ellis said. She hopes to share with students, that “there are programs like Providence that can equip you with good knowledge, and you can work your way up.”
“For me, going to Providence was so much more than a form of culinary education.”
For more information, go to flemingstreetnc.com and providencews.org/learn.