Minnie Bell's Soul Movement, the five-year-old soul-food stall at Emeryville's Public Market, is expanding to San Francisco, and it's a homecoming for chef-owner Fernay McPherson, who's a third-generation resident of the Fillmore District.
McPherson, who got her start in the food industry with the help of La Cocina's incubator program, learned out to cook from her grandmother Lillie Bell and great aunt Minnie, who moved to the Fillmore neighborhood in the mid-20th Century. McPherson tells the Chronicle that she's been looking for a restaurant space in the neighborhood for eight years now, and she's finally inked a deal to take over the 48-seat former Bruno's Pizzeria/Bruno's Cucina at 1375 Fillmore Street, which closed earlier this year.
"It was always my goal to open a restaurant in the Fillmore to be a representation of an era we don’t see anymore," McPherson tells the Chronicle, referring to a time in the 1940s and 50s when the Fillmore was a center of jazz and blues music and Black entrepreneurship, and was known as the "Harlem of the West" — a moniker that was also given to Seventh Street in West Oakland.
McPherson says she has particularly fond memories of buying hot-link sandwiches from Virgo's corner store, which is now long gone.
The arrival of this new restaurant neighborhood comes at a time of renewed hope for this strip of Lower Fillmore. While high-end restaurants like Merchant Roots, State Bird Provisions, and The Progress continue to draw fans, and RFP process is ongoing for the revamping of the long-shuttered Fillmore Heritage Center, which has two large restaurant spaces in it — the former Yoshi's, and the former 1300 on Fillmore. At least two of the entities submitting proposals to the city have floated the idea of bringing New York-based chef Marcus Samuelsson, of Red Rooster fame, in to liven up the restaurant scene.
The plan for the new Minnie Bell's Soul Movement is to offer fried chicken and waffles throughout the week for lunch and dinner — with other dishes and snacks available, as well as a fried chicken and caviar pairing (!). The Sunday brunch menu will be different, McPherson says, with items like oxtail hash and shrimp étoufée over fried grits.
The beverage list, McPherson says, will focus on sparkling wines from Black-owned wineries — because, as she tells the Chronicle, "Bubbles are very nice with fried chicken."
Since launching Minnie Bell's Soul Movement in Emeryville, McPherson has gained an ardent following for her food — and in particular, beside the fried chicken, her mac and cheese, which former Chronicle critic Soleil Ho raved about in 2021. "That cheesy, gooey mac gave me a shoulder massage, tucked me into bed and kissed me goodnight," Ho wrote at the time.
And East Bay fans fear not: The Emeryville Public Market location will stay open after the new one opens in SF.
The Fillmore location doesn't have an opening timeframe yet, but McPherson is aiming for later this year.
Minnie Bell's Soul Movement - 1375 Fillmore Street - Coming in late 2023