Carla Hall’s bright smile could light a dark room.
This isn’t some fake effervescence linked to always being “on,” a phrase used to describe television personalities and their on-camera personas.
In Hall’s case, it’s a true passion for helping, which is why she linked with Pepsi Dig in Day, which is Nov. 5, and the company’s efforts to help Black-owned restaurants. That passion extends to the changing nature of Black cuisine, which can include African and Caribbean food and tried-and-true soul food.
In an easy, breezy interview that reflects her outgoing personality, Hall discussed how soul food has evolved, why Roots Southern Table by Top Chef alum Tiffany Derry is one of her favorite eateries, and what she likes to cook for herself. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What is Pepsi Dig In Day?
It’s about driving awareness to these Black-owned restaurants. And I want to point out that as soon as somebody says Black, brown, they think about soul food. But it’s also Caribbean food, it’s African food. And I’ve been saying over the last eight years that African food will be the next big thing on the horizon. I’m excited … that there’s a dedicated day for these businesses.
What unique challenges do Black-owned restaurants continue to face?
Part of the problem is visibility. A lot of restaurants don’t have the marketing dollars or a PR company and go out there and have that presence in the media. I think in this day and age, everyone’s like, “‘Oh, where are the Black-owned restaurants? A lot of times, people don’t know where they are.”
When people hear “marketing,” they often hear “expensive.” But it doesn’t have to be if you use social media.
Exactly. As someone who had a catering company, I always thought my food is good, and (customers) will tell friends. And in this day and age, that isn’t the case. A lot of business is driven through social media. I hear businesses all the time say, “’ I don’t want to do that. I don’t have time.’ “It’s an effort they need to make.
You often talk about the diversity of Black cuisine. But when people hear Black-owned restaurant, what do they think?
They think soul food. Hands down, I’m going to get the best macaroni and cheese, oxtails, and some sweet potatoes. People know what sells and what’s expected in their community. But I think that there’s a way to have those dishes and have some everyday dishes. Let’s say you go out to eat frequently. You cannot eat that soul food every day.
How has soul food evolved and changed?
One of my favorite restaurants, by Tiffany Deery, is in Dallas. She has old-school soul food. They do gumbo. She has all those dishes we see as soul food on her menu. But it’s a fine dining menu. She also has dishes like Black Eyed Pea fritters and Black-Eyed Pea hummus, where she’s taking those indigenous ingredients and showing them differently. A chef, as a creative person, you don’t want to feel stuck in this space. You also want to show people what’s possible. Every other culture in their cuisine is growing. I think we are challenging old-school soul food.
What advice do you have for restaurant owners?
You have to know your numbers, You have to understand profit and loss and what dishes make money. Service is really important. When I go to a restaurant, a lot of times, and it’s a generalization, but people say, “”Oh, the service is so slow in a Black restaurant.’ “So it’s understanding service and how to maintain those restaurants. Because this program is really about repeat business, promoting and actually supporting these entrepreneurs into the future. We’re talking about a day, but we’re hoping to change the map of some of these businesses.
What’s the secret to your success?
My superpower is that I genuinely love people. I don’t pretend to love people. So when I have conversations with them, I don’t plan my conversation. I have a conversation. And I think that when people meet me, they feel like they’ve known me because I’m the same whether I’m on television or in person. I get that support, and I’m very grateful for the community of fans.
What’s your favorite meal to make for yourself?
I love eggs. So the thing that I’m going to make for myself is a French omelet, some pan-roasted tomatoes, and a salad. That’s my go-to. I will always have lemon because on my salad. I’m going to have like lemon zest, balsamic and olive oil. I can never get eggs the way I like them at a restaurant. So that’s the one thing that I don’t go out to have.