Soul food survivor ghosts Ottawa's restaurant scene
Fed up with the brick-and-mortar food business, LeRoy Walden of Detroit Soul Food Canada is back in business — but only through UberEATS.
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Hallville was too far from Ottawa, Somerset had some hiccups, a west-end food truck was a struggle and Gladstone had landlord issues.
Local chef LeRoy Walden has been cooking and selling soul food in the capital region since 2008, through a succession of ventures, none of which was quite right.
Now he’s opening Detroit Soul Food Canada with a radical new business model: selling food exclusively through UberEATS.
“Movie theatres all over are shut down because people are staying in and they’re watching Netflix,” Walden said. “The same goes for full-service restaurants, and that’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to open another.”
Since closing his last location, he has dabbled in catering and cooking for nightclubs like Mercury Lounge, but now he is hoping to be part of the vanguard of a new kind of food industry in Canada.
“‘Ghost restaurants’ are popping up all over in the States, where I’m from,” Walden said. “All I have to do is cook for my customers.”
As of this past Tuesday, he now operates out of The Cauldron Kitchen in Vanier, working Tuesday to Saturday from 7-11:30 p.m. His menu offers southern soul-food specialties like fried chicken and waffles, mac and cheese and a variety of sides and desserts. He also offers vegan options.
Walden, who is from the Detroit area, said his grandmother taught him how to cook when he was young, and he has used her recipes to develop his own unique seasoning sauce, batter and cornbread from scratch.
Valentine’s Day was his pilot night, and Walden was not prepared for the amount of orders he received.
“I gotta go buy a new waffle iron now because now I know that two waffle irons aren’t enough, because we went through 90 waffles last night alone,” he said. “Learning a new app and having a lot of people order delivery at the same time, that was a new one for me, but we figured out what we’re doing wrong.”
Walden has some concerns about Uber’s delivery radius potentially limiting his customer base, but remains optimistic.
“Yesterday we fed 17 households,” he said. “The average customer, they buy for two. I also offer my catering services through UberEATS as well.”
Other than catering, Walden said he has no Plan B if his new venture goes south.
“I’ve done everything, but bed and breakfast and a hotel,” he said. “It’s fun, I love it, I don’t think I want to do nothing else but do ghost restaurants from here on out.”