Atlanta Orders In: Who’s Got Soul reflects chef’s Southern heritage

Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe has locations in Lawrenceville and Decatur. This takeout order from the Decatur store includes a seafood platter with catfish, whiting, shrimp and hushpuppies; a vegetable plate with green beans, corn, cabbage and a corn muffin; and oxtails over rice with macaroni and cheese and collards. 
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe has locations in Lawrenceville and Decatur. This takeout order from the Decatur store includes a seafood platter with catfish, whiting, shrimp and hushpuppies; a vegetable plate with green beans, corn, cabbage and a corn muffin; and oxtails over rice with macaroni and cheese and collards. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Cafe soon to add a sister operation offering healthier fare

Keith Kash remembers scrambling eggs when he was too small to reach the stovetop. The 5-year-old would put a skillet in the oven and get it hot. Then he’d pull out the pan, crack the eggs, and stir. As a teen, he missed the entire 91 seconds of the Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks fight of 1988, because he was whipping up French toast for his buddies. They still get a good laugh out of that.

Kash, 48, grew up in Harlem, but he spent time with his maternal grandmother in Montgomery, Alabama, and he remembers how she’d preserve peaches and pears and save them for his visits. One of his aunts was the type of hostess who would get up at 2 a.m., when company was in the house, and cook all night long.

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Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe offers fried seafood, such as this plate with fried catfish, shrimp, hushpuppies and sides of macaroni and cheese and sautéed zucchini and yellow squash.
Courtesy of Who’s Got Soul Southern Café
Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe offers fried seafood, such as this plate with fried catfish, shrimp, hushpuppies and sides of macaroni and cheese and sautéed zucchini and yellow squash. Courtesy of Who’s Got Soul Southern Café

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

These childhood scenes, as well as memories of his North Carolina-born father, inform the offerings at Kash’s fast-casual Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafes, in Lawrenceville and Decatur, where customers can enjoy the likes of baked turkey wings, fried catfish, and oxtails with rice and gravy — dishes that pay tribute to his mama’s table.

Kash didn’t plan to earn a living in the industry until he moved to Gwinnett County in 1999 and detected a “void” in the Southern soul-food scene. By this time, he had served nine-plus years in the Navy and gotten a college education. Once settled in Atlanta, he started a technology company that built websites. One of his customers was the hip-hop duo OutKast.

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Who’s Got Soul offers fried seafood, including this combo with whiting, catfish, shrimp and hush puppies. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Who’s Got Soul offers fried seafood, including this combo with whiting, catfish, shrimp and hush puppies. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

In 2000, he used the money he made from designing the website for OutKast’s fourth album, “Stankonia,” to finance his first cafe. “That first check that I received, I took it straight to the contractor,” Kash recalled. “I didn’t even cash it. I signed it over to them, and that’s how I built Who’s Got Soul in Lawrenceville.”

A Decatur store followed in 2008.

Now, Kash is putting the finishing touches on a sister restaurant, Who’s Got Soul Southern Grill, scheduled to open next month in Duluth.

All the desserts are house-made, and Kash takes pride in using fresh local vegetables and abstaining from seasoning them with pork. “We want to maintain the flavor and integrity,” he said, “but we also want to be conscious about nutrition, high blood pressure, diabetes — all the things that ail, especially the Black community.”

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Keith Kash opened the first Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe in Lawrenceville in 2000; a second location is in Decatur. He plans to open a sister restaurant, Who’s Got Soul Southern Grill, in Duluth in March. Courtesy of Aric Thompson
Keith Kash opened the first Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe in Lawrenceville in 2000; a second location is in Decatur. He plans to open a sister restaurant, Who’s Got Soul Southern Grill, in Duluth in March. Courtesy of Aric Thompson

Credit: Aric Thompson

Credit: Aric Thompson

At Who’s Got Soul Southern Grill, he plans a hybrid approach — traditional offerings, plus more grilled, broiled and smoked proteins, more veggies, some salads, and vegan options.

As for the pandemic, Kash said being a young Black entrepreneur in America always has meant operating in a crisis. What COVID-19 did was force him to run his business more efficiently. “Online ordering has been around for years,” he said. “We have not taken advantage of online ordering. We did not understand the benefits of online ordering.”

Customers consider the options at Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe in Decatur. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Customers consider the options at Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe in Decatur. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

By adding digital platforms and delivery, he’s been able to grow his company. Otherwise, he said, “we might not have been able to get through the pandemic.”

One of his ventures that was affected by COVID-19 was Cafe 55, the Atlanta City Hall cafeteria that his team had run since 2014. Launched during the administration of former Mayor Kasim Reed, Cafe 55 was open to the public and served a diversity of cuisines (Italian, Mexican, barbecue), but the most popular fare, by far, was Southern. Alas, the cafeteria closed to the public in March, and its future remains uncertain.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe has had a Decatur location since 2008. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Who’s Got Soul Southern Cafe has had a Decatur location since 2008. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

WHO’S GOT SOUL SOUTHERN CAFE

Menu: Southern soul food

Alcohol: no

What I ordered from the Decatur location: oxtail dinner with collards and mac and cheese; seafood combo with one piece each of fried catfish and whiting, shrimp, and hush puppies; a veggie plate with skillet corn, green beans, cabbage and potato salad; coconut cake; carrot cake. Pretty good, overall. I appreciated the use of fresh vegetables and really liked the collards, corn, mac and cheese, and potato salad. The corn bread and hush puppies were just a tad sweet for my taste, but I loved the cake. Unfortunately, the cole slaw and fries that were supposed to accompany the seafood combo were not in my bag.

Service options: takeout and delivery via Uber Eats; no dine-in

Outdoor dining: no

Mask policy: yes, for employees and guests. “No mask, no service,” said chef-owner Keith Kash.

Address, phone: 3818 Covington Highway, Decatur. 404-289-0116; 1098 Herrington Road, Lawrenceville. 770-995-6544

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 12-8 p.m. Sundays

Website: whosgotsoulcafe.com

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