One pie made from six ingredients has turned into so much more for the mother and daughter duo behind Simply Soulful.
When Lillian Rambus and her mother Barbara Collins started selling pies in 2011, they both worked full time and only sold pies at a farmer’s market on the weekends.
“It started one Saturday with one pie,” Lillian said. “Just trying to start the business.”
The pie in question comes from Lillian’s grandmother Elizabeth Hammond. Elizabeth helped her daughter recreate the famous sweet potato pie — tasting the batter and telling Barbara exactly what to add.
As the popularity of their pies grew, Lillian and Barbara went from one farmer’s market to multiple. Then, the pair began selling pies wholesale to grocery stores, the demand for catering grew, and in 2014, they had the opportunity to open a cafe.
Lillian wanted to quit her job and her mom was looking to retire, so they jumped at the opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar shop. Simply Soulful began 8 years ago as a small space nestled in Madison Valley with a tiny kitchen no bigger than many residential setups. In 2022, they are ready to grow.
Small but mighty
When you walk into Simply Soulful, you’ll be welcomed by big smiles and delicious smell of cornbread, fried chicken, and of course, pie. Lillian and Barbara make their customers feel at home with a dose of Southern hospitality, creating a warm and inviting environment.
“Really, it’s just family recipes,” Lillian said. “We just kind of put together a menu of things we knew we could cook, and cook well.”
Lillian said her grandmother Elizabeth was always cooking. She cooked for her family, her community, and her church. It wasn’t until Lillian moved out on her own that she realized how unique her grandmother’s home cooked meals were to the Seattle area.
“With my family being from the South, I definitely have a distinct flavor,” she said.
Barbara, who can be found in the kitchen every day the cafe is open, and the chefs at Simply Soulful have captured that distinct flavor.
“My mom is there hands-on every day making sure that things are right, [and] taste right,” Lillian said.
While Barbara works the kitchen, Lillian is usually handling administrative duties. But she makes sure to stop in regularly to help out and meet customers. Together, the two women are a dynamic duo who have worked together to create a community out of a cafe.
“It just comes down to a mutual goal and a mutual understanding and mutual respect,” Lillian said about working with her mother. Although Lillian admits there are challenges to working with family, she said they weather it well.
“Ultimately, she is my mom. Not too much I can do there,” Lillian laughed.
Although there are challenges, Lillian also pointed out the rewards that come hand-in-hand with running Simply Soulful with Barbara. Lillian’s three children get to see their mother and grandmother working together and creating something. She doesn’t know if her children will want to continue in the family business, but she said one has shown a love for cooking.
“My little girl just likes to boss people around,” Lillian said. “She can be the manager.”
The familial feel extends to both staff and customers, which comes from Lillian and Barbara’s goal to make everyone feel welcome.
“Our employees all call my mom — Barbara — they call her Mama,” Lillian said. “It’s like we are a family.”
Lillian thinks their customers feel the same way. Regulars know Lillian and Barbara are hands-on, and on any given day, you’re likely to find one or both of them at the cafe. Both appreciate the customers who have supported Simply Soulful and are excited provide a space for the community as they move to the Central District.
New space, same soul
After eight years in Madison Valley, Lillian and Barbara have outgrown their space. Simply Soulful is in the midst of moving to a new location on the corner of 23rd and Jackson, a corner historically filled with Black-owned businesses.
Vulcan, the real estate company developing 23rd and Jackson, have made a commitment to keeping Black-owned businesses in an effort to mitigate the impacts of gentrification. With tenant improvement funds and other support, Vulcan’s assistance has made Lillian and Barbara’s move much less stressful.
When the restaurant moves, Simply Soulful’s old space will be converted to a commissary kitchen. Lillian said her mother is looking forward to having a bigger space to cook in — a space that will hopefully be able to keep up with their hungry customers.
There are a few things about Simply Soulful that will never change: the Southern flavors, the welcoming environment, and the passion of the owners. But when Lillian and Barbara move to the new location they will be expanding their menu.
Along with new dishes like pork chops, a burger, and a vegan black-eyed pea salad, Simply Soulful will be touting a new drink menu with wine, beer, and liquor. The walls of their new space will be lined with the work of artists of color from Seattle.
“We’ve always remained diligent in providing an open space for the community to return to the Central District,” Lillian said. “That’s very important to us.”