We drove down to Grace Street this afternoon.
We found the narrow brick building sitting snug and tidy and unapologetic for her cramped alleyway parking and the ten coats of paint peeling on her door.
A black gentleman with his Sally Bell boxed lunch, tapped on our window, and called through the glass."Just pull on up. You're fine." He had seen me back up and pull in a half dozen times trying to get the angle just right.
We stepped out of the car into a river of tradition and Southern gentility and found the Virginia speech of my youth, where voices pour slow, rich, and sweet.
My girls and I stood at the glass case watching the old black woman open three white boxes and line each with thin, checkered sheets. . .and prepare our lunch to order. She hummed to the rhythm of a task repeated a hundred times a day for over thirty years. She had been a young woman the first time she had lined one of those boxes.
Through the double doors, past the upside down cupcakes iced all around, i could see straight back into the workings of the kitchen. A dozen women, most of them old and bent and graceful and intent on their work. I watched one woman ice a cupcake like i was watching a ballet on stage. For seconds, it was just that lady and i, and the rest of the chrome and chipped-paint storefront disappeared. She so intent on her task, so careful, as if it were the most special cake she'd ever made when it was probably her thousandth.
We carried our three little boxes to the car, and pausing only to say Grace, we untied the string and folded back the tissue paper. . .
I took my girls to Sally Bell to show them something. The ladies at Sally Bell are living out something my girls will instinctively recognize. An elegance, a gentility, an excellence, and a work ethic that is in their Nana, passed down from the women before her. Something that is part of their inheritance as Southerners, Virginians, women. Preparing good food for the people you love faithfully and consistently and proudly, without fanfare, as if the wondrous thing you do each day is all in a day's work.
"Everything is fresh, every single day." ~ Martha Jones, 3rd generation owner
"The same little ladies have been working here for years and years and years, and they know who you are, and Richmonders like that." ~ Martha Jones
"It's comforting to go in there and get a boxed lunch. It's like going to your grandma's house and her fixing up your little lunch." ~ customer
"Everything here is homemade, even the mayonaise." ~ Connie Parker
“These are called cheese wafers. They’re real good. One goes in every lunch box. You have five ingredients that go in every lunch box. When you get a lunch box, you ain’t gonna say that you just got a sandwich and that’s it. No you got five different things in your little lunch box. Which is real nice. And I think for the price you pay for it, you get your money’s worth.” ~ Joyce Brown
"Christmas Eve is going to be a knock-out. I mean busy all day long. And they will come to the door in the morning about 7:30 or 8 and stand in line that long." ~ Ann Crump
"It's that score. You got the potato salad. It's on your Christmas table. You did it." ~Martha Jones
"I think it's comforting. Something that doesn't change."~ Martha Jones
"The work ethic, too, some people might slouch around, but you don't see that at Sally Bell's, because everybody's putting their heart into it." ~ Martha Jones
"I don't think I'll quit right now. I'll probably stay 'til I get ninety-five." ~Connie Parker
"It's a part of history because it's been here for so long, and you kind of hope it stays forever." ~ Ann Crump
Sally Bell's Kitchen. . .on a street called Grace.
All of the pictures on this post were taken from Southern Foodways video, except for the two we took in the car. Would you like to hear the rich voices of these Southern women (and one darling gentleman) and soak up the images of Sally Bell?. . .please fix youself a cuppa and settle in a comfy chair to watch this 11 minute video. You won't be sorry. Grace to you my friends. . .