If you drive Harris Boulevard near I-85 on a regular basis, you’ve likely seen the sign for Rebecca’s Taste of the South and wondered, “Are they another chain?” Owner Eartha Collier, Rebecca’s youngest child, loves telling visitors no and hearing, “Good!” Even more, she loves serving them Rebecca’s signature dishes like catfish, collard greens and potato salad and hearing, “Don’t do anything different!”
Eartha and her husband, Cedric, opened Rebecca’s this spring on University Center Boulevard, the road leading to four restaurants that front West W.T. Harris Boulevard near I-85, including Chili’s and Cheddar’s. The Colliers launched Rebecca’s slowly, offering only lunches until recently while training the staff and fine-tuning the menu.
Their restaurant celebrates the life, lessons and culinary skills of Rebecca Welfare of Orangeburg, SC. Rebecca passed away in 2011 at the age of 92.
“She was the culinary matriarch of our community,” Eartha recalls. “Friends and family loved coming to our house to eat because they knew that whatever she cooked up, it would be tasty, fresh from the garden and full of love.”
Lessons for life
The family had little money, but Rebecca was a master of the garden and the kitchen. Eartha began her cooking lessons early. “From the age of 6. I was tied to her apron strings. I literally followed her all around the garden and the kitchen,” she says.
Eartha also witnessed the soothing power of food and fellowship firsthand from her momma. “She used food to bring people together.”
Rebecca taught all six of her children the importance of getting a good education and doing things well, Eartha says. “Momma had a saying: ‘Do the right thing and do it to the fullest.’”
Eartha took that advice to heart. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at South Carolina State University in her hometown, and a PhD in Counselor Education from the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Eartha also found a good man for life’s journey. “We met in 12th grade and became an item!” Eartha says of Cedric. He also graduated from S.C. State, with a major in biology and minor in chemistry and a M.P.H. in Environmental Health Science from the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Their careers soon took them north, where Eartha went on to teach college, provide counseling and also work as a motivational speaker. Cedric, meanwhile, served in the Army for five years obtaining the rank of Captain and then worked for 25 years in corporate safety management.
Five years in the making
Five years ago, Eartha began thinking that it was time to take a new path – a path back to her roots and to the passion for cooking that she shared with Rebecca. “To do a restaurant right you have to have fire in the belly for it, all day and all night, and I have fire in the belly for all things culinary,” she says.
Eartha also shares her momma’s belief in doing things “to the fullest.” She enrolled in a strong culinary arts program at a community college, eventually earning credentials in culinary arts, hospitality management and restaurant management.
Then she and Cedric researched places across America that might appreciate a restaurant showcasing authentic Southern foods. That research led them to Charlotte, and good luck led them to a vacant restaurant building in University City.
First impressions matter, and when they walked in and saw the big fireplace in the spacious central lobby, Eartha was hooked.
Welcome to Rebecca’s
First-time visitors can be forgiven for wondering if this is just another chain restaurant. A steakhouse chain did build it, after all. The personal touches are all Eartha’s. She credits her many years as a counselor and motivational speaker for the idea to put up signs with comforting slogans like “Friends Gather Here” at the full-service bar, and “Good Food, Good Friends, Good Times” over the kitchen door. Soft jazz and “old school” popular music add to the relaxing atmosphere.
The restaurant’s many booths and tables mean there’s plenty of space for both groups and those regulars who prefer to spend time alone with a good book and a good meal.
The menu showcases Rebecca’s “Southern cuisine, made from scratch,” Eartha says: “The macaroni and cheese, made with real cheeses. And good old-fashioned potato salad. And of course the collard greens!”
“People tell us we’ve got the best catfish in town,” Cedric adds. “And the baby back ribs – the honey-glazed baby back ribs are huge sellers.”
The extensive menu has many other dishes, including sandwiches, salads, appetizers and desserts.
The Colliers hope you’ll love the food as much as they do. And Eartha hopes that you will find a little of Rebecca’s kitchen here on each visit.
“We want Rebecca’s Taste of the South to be a place where people look forward to coming to for good food and good times, and to escape the stressors of life,” Eartha says – just like home.
Want to go?
Rebecca’s Taste of the South is at 630 University Center Blvd., beside Cheddar’s.
The restaurant seats 303, including 74 seats in a separate dining room available for parties, meetings and other events. The full-service bar seats 72.
Hours: 11 am-9 pm Tue-Thu; 11 am-10 pm Fri-Sat; 11 am-9 pm Sun; closed Mondays
Website: The restaurant website, www.rebeccastaste.com, will be up in approximately two weeks.