Bennie Smith’s inspiration to open a restaurant came from two sources. One was his desire to have a home for his already-established catering business and the other was to celebrate fatherhood.
Earlier this month, Smith – along with his wife of 22 years, Angela – opened Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille, 754 N. 27th St.
The space, which was home to a Subway restaurant before the Smiths took it over, has almost no trace of its fast food history. Instead, it casts a homey vibe with comfortable seating and warm-colored walls adorned with local art by African-American artists and black-and-white photographs depicting fatherhood.
"Without a father, the family is in chaos. We want to reiterate here what a father. It’s about loving your child and your child loving you back. That is manhood," says Smith.
There’s a large framed photo of Smith’s father, who was also a chef, in the restaurant. Smith grew up occasionally going to work with his dad at a country club in Zion, Ill. and was inspired by his commitment to quality and love for food.
In January, Smith’s father was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away on Easter. Opening the restaurant was a dream shared by father and son.
The "Daddy’s" name is, in part, a tribute to him.
Smith moved to Milwaukee in 1986 and went on to obtain a degree from the Milwaukee Area Technical College in the culinary arts. He worked at the prestigious (but no longer open) English Tea Room in the Pfister Hotel, managed a McDonald’s and ran his own catering business – which he plans to continue operating along with the restaurant.
"I give it my all and I always will," says Smith. "When Michelle Obama was here my catering company cooked for her. People don’t believe me when I say that, but I have pictures."
All of the recipes on Daddy’s menu were created by Smith or his family members. The menu is divided into sections named after Smith’s six children.
Benjamin, Smith says, is casual and laid back so the soul food buffet is named in his honor.
The buffet menu changes daily and features chicken and, depending on the day, barbecued short ribs (Tuesdays and Saturdays), meat loaf (Wednesdays), pork chops (Thursdays), catfish fillets and salmon patties (Fridays).
The sides rotate and include smoked turkey greens, sweet potatoes, baked mac and cheese, corn, mashed potatoes, rice, spaghetti, baked beans and black-eyed peas.
Gravy is available in modest or copious amounts.
The cost of the buffet is $9.59 for a meat selection with two sides and cornbread or $10.99 for a meat selection, three sides and cornbread.
Smith’s son Andrew is a "meat guy" so his name is on the burger section of the menu which includes beef and turkey burgers and a chicken breast sandwich.
Smith’s daughter, Ashley, is a vegetarian, so the meat-free items named for her include a veggie burger, veggie wrap and a Philly cheese portobello sandwich.
"The portobello is a hot item. We are killing it on that sandwich," says Smith. "We wanted to cater to the masses – the meat eaters and the vegetarians."
Bria is Smith’s most intellectual daughter, so he assigned her name to the "intricate dishes" like grilled tilapia tacos, chicken 'n' waffles and a stuffed baked potato.
Jay is "the coffee guy" and so his name is above the coffee and tea options. Water and soda is also available. Daddy’s does not serve alcohol.
At this point, Smith is the king of the kitchen, but eventually he would like to hire someone to take over so he can focus on marketing, social media and expansion.
"I don’t want to work behind plexiglass, I don’t want to sell you anything and I certainly don’t want you to settle for anything less than great," he says. "Daddy’s is a passion of ours and we show it through our food, service and in trying to help change people’s mentalities about fatherhood."
Daddy’s is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 7:30 p.m. Sundays exclusively offer the buffet items and televised football games during the season.
"We’ve had a great crowd for the Packers game so far. It turns into a ‘man cave’ around here on Sundays," says Smith. "It’s nice for men to have a place to go, where they can be supported to have fun but also to take care of their kids."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.