MERIDEN — Sherice Griffin won’t tell anyone how she gets that special scowl on her fried chicken, or the taste of Thanksgiving in her sweet potato corn bread. She doesn’t even tell her mother, Sharon Little-Drew, whose Mama’s Southern Smothered Pork Chops and potato salad bring fans in for seconds.
It’s been Griffin’s dream to open a restaurant for many years, and when she fired up the grill in the corner of the Ocean State Job Lot Plaza, the whole family was there to help.
Griffin recently opened Southern Dishes, Seafood & Desserts with her menu of southern chicken, steak dishes, shrimp and mama’s chops. The restaurant at 1231 E. Main St. fills a space left vacant by Royal Fish & Chips several years ago.
Little-Drew’s mother was from Chesterfield, South Carolina, and she brought her recipes and cooking techniques north where a young Sherice would watch and learn. As a teen, Griffin cooked at all the family cookouts and picnics and learned to put her own twist on grandma’s favorites.
“I was surprised, but she’s got a hidden talent,” Little-Drew said about her daughter opening a restaurant. ”But I’m mom and I got her back. I said, ‘That’s your dream and I gotta do what I gotta do to help.’”A family comes together
After tracking down the property broker at the plaza about a year ago, Griffin and Little-Drew gathered the family resources to bring the restaurant to life. Little-Drew owns her own cleaning business, and brothers and Griffin’s boyfriend set to work tearing out the old equipment and fixing walls to enhance what was a rundown restaurant. Little-Drew’s husband Demetrius Drew helped with some of the financial backing.
“The family all pitched in and there is somebody for every department,” Griffin said.
Southern Dishes’ grand opening and ribbon cutting is Sept. 6, but until then, Griffin is serving up crispy chicken, steak and peppers, shrimp baskets and pork chops to walk-in customers. Entrees run from $15.99 to $18.99 and include two generous sides from a list that includes cotton candied yams, traditional collard greens with smoked turkey, signature baked macaroni and cheese, traditional green beans with pork, mama’s potato salad and cornbread. The sweet potato cornbread is $2 extra but justified after one bite.
“I’m a foodie,” Griffin said. “I found a recipe and it took five or six tries for things to turn out the way I liked it.”Part of the community
Grifffin plans to hire another cook, bring jobs and become part of the community. She’s joined the Midstate Chamber of Commerce and hopes to network with other members. The restaurant will be expanding its menu soon to add Little-Drew’s and her husband Demetrius Drew’s expertise with barbecue meats and ribs. The family likes food questions, and Little-Drew patiently explained to a Yankee that pulled pork is the Northern term for the popular meat dish, while in the South it’s called chopped barbecue.
“We are delighted to welcome Southern Dishes, Seafood & Desserts LLC to the Midstate Chamber of Commerce as a new member and are glad that they chose Meriden to open their location,” said Midstate Chamber of Commerce President Rosanne Ford. “Their presence in the Ocean State Plaza will help to increase traffic to the plaza and hopefully draw more businesses to open there as well. We wish them great success and we look forward to working with them.”
Some of Griffin’s customers are already becoming regulars and she now serves them daily.
“I come here for the quality of food and the friendliness of staff,” said Rob Lockhart of Meriden. “Good food is good food. I have only tried the fried chicken but I’m anxious to try the smothered pork chops. If it’s coming from her, I know it’s good. I want to see her succeed because she’s put in a lot of work.”