With fusion soul food rooted in family and travel, chef LaKisha Grimmett Harris is bringing a world of flavor to Muskegon Heights
When you eat LaKisha Grimmett Harris’ food—a culinary landscape filled with fusion, cuisines inspired by her time in Brazil and Detroit, and dishes rooted in family—she wants you to fall in love.
She doesn’t mean that lightly. Harris—who grew up in North Muskegon, now lives in the Detroit area and is returning home this Saturday, Dec. 14 to be the chef at The Hideout’s new weekly “Brunch and Blues” event in Muskegon Heights—wants you to feel the food like she does. She wants you to feel the history behind it: her mother’s love for cooking, her adventures around the globe, and, now, her homecoming.
And, of course, she wants it to be joyful, and delicious, but, for Harris, food is more than just a momentary licking of the lips. It’s about family—about her mother teaching her to cook, about her mother’s successful catering business in Muskegon, about carrying on those culinary traditions. It’s about forging new relationships, celebrating those who have been with us for a lifetime, and remembering those no longer with us; about breaking down the barriers between people and cultures; about the sacrifices we make to follow our passion.
For Harris, her food and Saturday’s brunch at The Hideout—a bar and restaurant that debuted in 2017 and has since gone on to become a cultural hub in Muskegon Heights, hosting everything from jazz performances to poetry nights—is about the new life she’s leading. After years in the corporate world, including working as a Spanish translator for DTE Energy and Blue Cross Blue Shield and being the lead administrator for one of Michigan’s top neurosurgeons, she has left behind the long and draining workweeks in an office to pursue what she loves full-time: cooking.
“I increasingly found myself working 60, 70 hours a week, and it was robbing me of a life,” said Harris. “I’ve done corporate America, I’ve done the healthcare field, and I never received the gratification I feel getting in the kitchen and cooking. Cooking for me is not work; this is my joy. It’s where I find my happiness, my peace, my serenity.”
Following much encouragement from friends and family enamored with her food, Harris decided to forge a new life for her and her daughter and has launched her own catering company, Soul-Filled Catering. While Harris is still living in the Detroit area, she’ll be serving up her food at The Hideout on the second and fourth Saturday of each month through April; Harris and another chef, Damon Covington, will be the alternating chefs at the “Brunch and Blues” event. Accompanied by music from a deejay, Saturday’s meal will be a celebration of soul food, with such entrees as Southern fried chicken benedict, a “soul omelette,” Cajun shrimp and creamy grits, bananas foster French toast, and more.
“When people eat my food, I want their souls to be filled,” Harris said. “What is soul food? It’s food that comes from the heart. It heals. There’s something about it that tastes differently. It’s made with love and sacrifice. When you put love and prayer into your food, people are going to feel that.”
From North Muskegon to Brazil and Detroit—and a return to Muskegon
Harris was born and raised in North Muskegon—her mother, Thelma Grimmett, ran a successful catering business in the community and too was the chef for Maranatha Bible & Missionary Conference in Norton Shores and her father, Richard Grimmett, has been an associate pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in North Muskegon for 33 years.
It was during her childhood that Harris became enamoured with cooking—she essentially served as she sous-chef for her mother’s catering business, and, in many ways, Harris’ own catering company now is an homage to her mother, a woman known and loved throughout the community who unexpectedly passed away in 2014.
“Everyone loved my mom,” Harris said. “There were more than 2,000 people at her homegoing. Now, when I come home, people ask me, ‘Can you make this food like your mom?’”
“My mother passed very young, before she was able to reach the people I’ll be able to reach,” Harris continued, referring to her catering business. “What I’m doing is an extension of what she started. Now my mother’s friends are eating my food. My daughter didn’t grow up in Muskegon, and now I’m bringing her back here. It’s a continuum of community and forging bonds.”
While learning the ins and outs of cooking from her mom, Harris too saw what it meant to be a chef, to provide food for those you love: how it brought people together, how it served as joy and solace and comfort in good times and bad. She would watch as her mom—a woman known as “Aunt Tiny” to those around her, a name she landed because of her “skinny legs,” her daughter explained—would pack her house every Sunday, when Thelma Grimmett would cook for 30 to 40 members of her family.
As a student at Reeths-Puffer High School, Harris went on a year-long exchange program in Brazil—and it was there that her “love for trying new things began.” A longtime lover of language, Harris became fluent in Portugese—she’s also fluent in Spanish and French—and this love for other cultures makes its way into her food. On Saturday, for example, she’s designed the menu to be a melange of traditional soul food and European—think: collard greens and pork inside an omelette, the meeting of fried chicken and eggs benedict, and more.
“I like eggs benedict; that’s more European—and I said, ‘Let’s have fried chicken on that, some gravy, and bring some of the south into it,” Harris said. “In African-American communities, collard greens or pork is very common, but not inside an omelette.”
Her love for exploring the world led her to leave Muskegon for college, and, after majoring in English and creative writing at Western Michigan University, Harris moved to Detroit to work as a translator for DTE Energy and Blue Cross Blue Shield. She eventually moved to Troy to work as the lead administrator for a neurosurgeon—and while she was making good money and doing something she enjoyed, she knew her passion existed elsewhere, in cooking.
So, this past August, Harris launched her Soul-Filled Catering. Since then, she’s filled her busy days delivering to businesses, signing a catering contract with Chrystler, and returning to Muskegon to cook for family and friends here. Now, with her work at The Hideout, Harris is considering making the move back to Muskegon—where she eventually hopes to open a food truck and then a restaurant.
“The beauty of leaving is to be able to come home to serenity, to drive out to the lake and watch the sunset,” Harris said. “You can’t find that in Kalamazoo, in Grand Rapids; that’s Muskegon. I’m proud of where I come from. I want to make a positive impact here; I want to invest in where I’m from. My first food truck, my first restaurant would be in Muskegon. I want to be the change I want to see in my community.”
Hoping to open Aunt Tiny’s food truck—named after her mom—in 2020, potentially even by spring, Harris said she’d plan on debuting Aunt Tiny’s restaurant not long after that. Both the food truck and the restaurant would offer cuisines inspired by her childhood, global travels and life in Detroit—including “the Uncle Richard,” or a steak and potatoes entree named after her dad, buttermilk biscuits in honor of her grandmother, and other dishes reminiscent of the food that filled Harris’ house while she was growing up. Once she opens her restaurant, Harris envisions it will be a world much like the one her mother so joyfully cultivated: a house filled with food and laughter and family and friends. A place where you can break bread with those you love and those you’ve just met—a space where you can learn about other cultures, or even just about other neighborhoods in your own city, and share your life stories with strangers who quickly become friends.
“My thought is to come back, purchase a house, renovate it, and have it be a restaurant,” she said.
With all of this—The Hideout brunches, Aunt Tiny’s food truck and restaurant—Harris is hoping to not only put Muskegon on the culinary map, but dominate it.
“A lot of things we’ve been doing privately, the food we’ve been making at family and community gatherings, let’s bring it to the mainstream,” she said. “Let’s let people know what it’s like to have real soul food…Let’s become the frontrunners. When you go to Detroit, you expect good music because it’s Detroit. Let’s make food be that for Muskegon. Let’s make Muskegon the culinary hub.”
“Brunch and Blues” is held from 11am-1pm every Saturday at The Hideout (100 E. Broadway Ave. in Muskegon Heights). The next “Brunch and Blues” will be on Saturday, Dec. 14. To see the menu for this coming Saturday, please click here. The Hideout will also host a local band headed by musician Charles Booker on Friday, Dec. 13 from 7-9pm. For more information about upcoming events at The Hideout, please click here.
Story and bottom photo by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Top two photos courtesy of LaKisha Grimmett Harris. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.