At Lott and Big Weezy’s Kitchen, a new soul food restaurant at 169 E. Broadway in Muskegon Heights, the door is in a perpetual state of opening.
Days after the eatery debuted on Friday, April 19, customers have not stopped coming. At 2pm Tuesday, April 23, the place is packed with area residents and passersby who have come for the catfish. And the perch. The rib tips and the turkey knuckles. The chicken and waffles. And the list goes on.
“It’s amazing to see the love and support; the community has really come out for us,” Lott and Big Weezy’s Kitchen co-owner Phyllis Loudermill says Tuesday as she navigates an endless stream of activity: food orders and phone calls and people dropping by to dole out hugs and congratulations.
Named for the two families that have joined forces to open this restaurant, the Lotts and Tawayne “Weezy” Davis and his family members, the soul food spot is not just a story of good food: it’s about second chances, about community, about navigating an economy filled with barriers to success for those trying to restart their lives after serving time in prison. It’s a story of family and friends and pride—for Muskegon Heights, for a new business, for the courage that it takes to start over in a world that can be quick to judge and slow to embrace.
Davis, who is from Muskegon and grew up in Flint, and Loudermill, who’s a member of the Lott family and is from Muskegon Heights, teamed up with their loved ones to open the restaurant after Davis was released from prison and wanted to piece his life together. A participant of Trading Places—a program run by Loudermill that helps ex-offenders learn various trades and entrepreneurship skills—Davis has aspired to run a restaurant for as long as he can remember.
“My dream has always been to have a restaurant,” Davis says. “Since I’ve been out of prison, I’ve been out here trying to do the right thing and also mentoring young people with cooking.”
Lott and Big Weezy’s Kitchen is the first restaurant that Trading Places has been involved in opening, Loudermill notes, and she hopes it will become a blueprint for similar endeavors across the state—and country. A partnership between Herco Construction, the Michigan Department of Corrections, and Laborers’ Local 1191 in Detroit, Trading Places aims to connect those reentering their communities after prison with the skills needed to ensure individuals succeed and don’t reoffend.
“It’s astounding how smart these men and women are who are in prison, but they’ve been forgotten about,” Loudermill says. “What a lost resource. We’re working to change that.”
For Davis, that work translated to him being able to showcase the craft he has perfected over the years.
“When my brother died, we had to raise the money to bury him, so I cooked barbecue dinners,” Davis says. “Since then, people kept telling me they want my cooking.”
After being denied traditional funding from banks, Davis, Loudermill and their families decided to partner and open the restaurant on their own.
“In this situation, we’ve gotten together investors in this community to make it work,” Loudermill says. “This shows communities can take care of themselves if they believe in their product and their people.”
Following countless hours crafting a business plan, Davis and Loudermill agreed on a five-year plan that includes the families purchasing the Muskegon Heights building they’re now leasing during their second year of business and Davis completely taking over the restaurant in the fifth year of operations. Now, and throughout its future, Lott and Big Weezy’s too will focus on providing mentorship for children and teens and employment for formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as other members of the local community. In fact, just after opening, the restaurant secured work for a child struggling to find food.
“We had a 12-year-old kid who came in the other day and asked if we have anything for $3,” Loudermill says. “My brother told him we don’t, but asks if he’s hungry. He said he was. So my brother said if the kid cleans up our lot outside every day, we’ll give him food and $10. That lot hasn’t been dirty since.”
In a community that has a rich history of entrepreneurship, Muskegon Heights too has faced disinvestment—and a lack of support from the traditional banking community. But, Loudermill emphasizes, the new soul food restaurant is a celebration of a community that is making sure its residents succeed.
“At our grand opening, we had people come from Flint, from Lansing, from Kalamazoo, from all over,” she says. “We’re showing this can be done again in Muskegon Heights. We want people to see you can be black-owned and top-notch.”
The Muskegon Heights venue isn’t the only restaurant owned by the Lott and Davis families; they too will soon debut Lott on the Lakeshore at 2445 Lakeshore Drive. The restaurant is expected to open Memorial Day weekend and will also focus on providing culinary apprenticeships for local community members.
During this whirlwind of grand openings, Davis and Loudermill are deeply moved by the support of all of those who surround them—from family members to former strangers who are quickly becoming regular customers. For those running and working at the businesses, these are almost overwhelming moments of joy—and Davis wishes his father, A.D., Barnes, were here to see all of this.
“My father always said I would do well in Muskegon,” he says. “I use his words as a stepping stone. He saw it way before I saw it.”
Lott and Big Weezy’s Kitchen is located at 169 E. Broadway Ave. in Muskegon Heights. The restaurant is open 11am-7pm Monday through Thursday, 11am-11pm Friday and Saturday, and 12pm-6pm Sunday. For more information, visit their Facebook page or call 231-737-6003.