For over two decades, Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place has served the Kennedy-King neighborhood as not only a place to get traditional soul food, but also as a spot for giving back. Now, in the wake of tragedy, the neighborhood is rallying around the restaurant and its owners, Isaac and Cynthia Wilson.
Firefighters spent nearly an hour and a half putting out the flames in the early hours of Jan. 11, and while no one was hurt, the damage to the building was enough to close the restaurant until further notice. However, the temporary closure hasn’t stopped the outpouring of love and support from customers, local business owners and community leaders.
“I was shocked and saddened to learn about the fire that has severely damaged Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place,” Rep. André Carson said. “If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then this establishment is truly the heart of the Kennedy-King neighborhood, offering up great food and a warm welcome to countless Hoosiers. In the wake of the fire, it has been heartening to see so many in our community show support for the restaurant and the Wilson family. So I’m confident that, despite the physical damage to this establishment, the spirit of community which has made it an invaluable institution, is stronger than ever. I believe its best days are still ahead.”
While the Wilson’s declined to comment, they did share an update on the Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place’s Facebook page. The post, dated Jan. 12, read: “Thank you for the overwhelming support and words of comfort for Kountry Kitchen and our valued employees that have been impacted by recent events. The calls, messages, stories, tweets and posts have truly made us proud to be a small piece of the fabric of Indianapolis. We love our community and value the love from you in return. We promise to keep you, our Family, updated as we move forward.”
The post garnered responses from over 150 people, including Mark Webster Sr., owner of Real Taste Catering in Indianapolis. Webster offered to lend his kitchen to the staff of Kountry Kitchen if they have any catering needs until they can open the restaurant again, and urges community members to do what they can to help the staff of Kountry Kitchen, as well as other Black-owned businesses.
From a business perspective, Webster understands tragedies such as the Kountry Kitchen fire are a harsh reality of owning a business.
“That business has been there for many years,” Webster said. “Just the fact that a business can have longevity like that and experience these kinds of problems, especially as another business owner, it’s crushing because it could happen to anybody. They help people, and they’re just good people.”
Despite serving some famous faces, including then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, the management and staff of Kountry Kitchen have always worked to make the eatery a community-based restaurant. For a decade, the restaurant has been dishing out free hot meals and blankets to those in need on Christmas Day, with Mayor Joe Hogsett being among the volunteers in 2019.
LaMar Holliday, president of the Kennedy-King Neighborhood Association, said this tradition of charity is one of the many things that makes Kountry Kitchen an important part of the community, and vows that the neighborhood association is prepared to do whatever it can to help the Wilson’s build the restaurant back up.
“Kountry Kitchen is a true staple in the Kennedy-King neighborhood,” Holliday said in an email. “This restaurant has opened its doors to our neighbors, elected officials, community leaders and others; they have also opened their hearts to address the dire needs throughout the community. Kountry Kitchen is the heartbeat of our neighborhood and we are devastated … by the damage to this cherished institution. The Kennedy-King Neighborhood Association stands ready and willing to assist Mr. Isaac and Ms. Cynthia in their journey to rebuild, renew and restore that sacred space.”
While the IFD investigation is still ongoing, no foul play is suspected, and investigators believe the fire started in a downstairs office.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.