Arletha Westley serves made-from-scratch meals she learned from her late mother — the namesake of her new restaurant.
On Dec. 21, she opened Annie Mae’s Soul Food on Frankston Highway, overtaking the small building that formerly housed Papi’s Tortas, Tacos y Mas.
Her mother “was a very ambitious role model and a very good cook,” Mrs. Westley said. “She taught me how to cook. I learned a lot watching her as a child.”
When she was 8 or 9, Mrs. Westley recalls her mother letting her assist, but stirring was the biggest responsibility she was given in the kitchen.
“She always said you had to be an experienced adult to handle good food,” Mrs. Westley, 49, said.
The majority of the dishes served at Annie Mae’s Soul Food come from her mother’s recipes — written on note cards, taken out of her cookbooks or something her mother created with “a dash of this and a cup of that,” she said.
As a child, her favorite thing her mother made was her German chocolate cake. She also loves the smothered pork chops, cornbread dressing and iron-skillet cornbread, which can all be found at the restaurant.
Specials of the day at Annie Mae’s Soul Food can include Mexican casserole, spaghetti and oven-baked barbecue chicken. Nearly every day she serves up her most popular dish, smothered pork chops, as well as meat loaf, fried catfish and neck bones. She occasionally serves oxtails and chitlins, she added.
“We prepare authentic food made from scratch,” she said. “It is our goal to offer a nice meal to the community at an affordable cost.”
Her candied yams, turnip greens, potatoes and other vegetables never come from a can, she said. Vegetables also include cabbage, rice, green beans and pinto beans. Other sides are red beans and rice and mac-and-cheese.
She said they know three to five days in advance what they’ll be cooking so customers can call ahead to find out the day’s specials.
The entrees run from $6.98 to $8.89 and include two sides and cornbread.
Desserts are sweet potato pie, banana pudding, German chocolate cake, coconut pound cake and buttermilk pie.
Mrs. Westley grew up in Lufkin and has lived in Tyler for nearly 20 years. She and her husband, Lee Westley, have a daughter and a son.
She earned a degree in business administration from Texas College and is now taking online courses through University of Phoenix to earn her master’s degree in business. Before following her dream of opening the restaurant, she worked with people with intellectual disabilities for several years, she said.
Mrs. Westley said she considered a few locations to open Annie Mae’s Soul Food and picked the building on Frankston Highway because she considered it somewhere in the middle of north and south Tyler, where it could serve everyone. She said she felt the St. Louis community had a need for the type of business.
She has about five employees, including two cooks who help her in the kitchen.
“It’s been pretty good,” she said of the response to her business. “Of course, we’re looking for it to increase.”
She said she hopes in April to start opening the restaurant for a few hours on Monday or Tuesday, the days they are closed, to feed meals to the homeless.