PHOTOS BY BECCA DILLEY
We can all agree that 2020 has left a lot to be desired, particularly in the food world. But for Wendy Puckett, proprietor of North Minneapolis’ Wendy’s House of SOUL, 2020 actually started in November 2019. Just before the busy holiday season, Wendy was shot in the face with a pellet gun as she left work one night. The drive-by shooting caused Wendy’s to close for two weeks just before Thanksgiving, a traditionally big catering date for them.
“I get emotional thinking about it,” she said. “I still think about that gunshot every single day as I drive down the street. I pay attention to time and to the other cars around me.”
But she was back to work before Christmas and on her way to recovering her business when COVID started making itself known. Along with the rest of the food establishments in the state, Wendy’s was closed due to the pandemic, eventually opening for takeout again—and then Wendy learned she’d lost her lease.
“We were trying to acquire our building,” Wendy said. “The owner said he wanted out [of the building], we were working out arrangements. Then he completely changed his tune.” She went from nearly owning to losing the space in just weeks.
“We looked at 37th and Chicago,” she says about her hunt for a new space. “There was a place that would have worked, near where George Floyd died. I prayed on it. But my spirit just didn’t feel right. I wanted to keep the business in North Minneapolis.” The new space, at 1825 Glenwood Avenue, is just five minutes from her original spot.
If there’s been one bright spot in all this, it’s that Wendy’s new space is no longer a shared space, as was the Broadway location, which split its square footage with a grocery store. “The new space is all ours! It has a full kitchen, off-street parking. I’ll miss that people can watch us cook. People liked to see us cooking. They were surprised to hear I was Wendy. ‘Oh, I thought Wendy was just the name.’ No, I’m here six days a week. Eventually we’ll have sit-down seating. Right now, we’ll focus on takeout to stay in compliance with COVID regulations.”
The community is excited for her return as well. She reports that many customers have been stopping by the new space, anxious for it to open. In her short time in business, Wendy has done a lot behind the scenes, donating meals to schools and nonprofits. Reopening will hopefully offset the expenses she’s incurred over the past year. Attempts to access some of the stimulus programs have, so far, not succeeded, but a GoFundMe campaign has drawn some donations.
The new location will come complete with new menu items. Wendy noted that people are often surprised that her eatery is not just fried chicken (but as we reported earlier, her chicken wings are glorious). All along, she’s been providing custom orders, especially with her SOULROLLS , which are egg roll wraps fused with a variety of fillings. “Someone will come in and say, ‘Oh, you don’t have a vegan roll.’ But I can make a vegan roll. The new menu will make it clear that all these things can happen. You want a Reuben roll or a vegan roll, we can do that.”
New items include several new rolls: the Trell, filled with French fries, gravy, and cheese with jalapeno; the Jive Turkey, filled with turkey, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and fresh garlic in Wendy’s Special Sauce; and the Pepper Me Bad, with a rice and gravy-stuffed poblano pepper and choice of beef or chicken. She’s also adding new wing flavors, and a whitefish salad, and she’s always open to suggestions for the future.
The grand opening at the new space is tomorrow, September 15, and Wendy is anxious to get back to work. “I want to say to everyone, let’s not give up on our community.” she said. “All these small businesses need our help. I want to cook for people and see their smiles. I want the masses to love my food. Come and eat, and have peace.
“A dear friend once said to me, ‘Keep the faith, walk forward, walk into every meeting as if you’d called it, and demand respect.’ That’s what we have to do, even in these hard times.”
Wendy’s House of SOUL
1825 Glenwood Avenue