EVERETT — Sharon Tolbert has been working seven days a week for the past seven months, but lately she’s been thinking of taking one day a week off.
But which day — Sunday or Monday? The problem, said Tolbert, is people don’t take a day off from being hungry.
Tolbert is CEO, head chef and lead server at Grandma’s in da Kitchen, a new soul food restaurant at 2831 West Marine View Drive in Everett.
“A lot of people drop in on Sundays,” she said. On Mondays the small businesses up and down the street want lunch. The day off decision will have to wait.
The menu is part soul food, part comfort food. “It’s not specifically African-American, but what’s comforting,” she explained.
When a customer pointed out that the pineapple cannoli in the pastry case wasn’t soul food, Tolbert was unfazed. “But is it comforting to you?” Tolbert asked.
“It is,” the customer replied.
Tolbert’s idea of comfort food includes rum raisin cannoli and chicken livers by the bucket as well as ribs, fried catfish and okra.
“Food is supposed to be fun,” she said.
Tolbert usually arrives at work between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., and doesn’t leave until 9 p.m.
“Everything needs to be on the hot bar and my desserts sliced by 11 a.m.,” said Tolbert. “The doors opens at 11 a.m.”
Raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, Tolbert moved to Tacoma 12 years ago to care of a sick relative.
She worked for restaurants and caterers in the Seattle area, including Seattle’s Beer and Bacon Classic, but the dream was always to open her own eatery.
“I saw an ad for this place,” she said. Repeat visits sealed the deal and the family moved to Marysville. Her tiny restaurant is in the building that once housed Jubie’s Barbecue & Caribbean Delight.
It can be confusing. Tolbert put up new signs for Grandma’s, but the old Jubie signs are still visible. She kept the jerk ribs and spicy rice but otherwise installed her own menu.
The name Grandma’s was chosen as a reminder of home and home cooking. “As old as you are, you always miss your mother or your grandmother,” she said.
In tailoring the menu for local tastes, the heat — spice — stays, but she’s cut back on the salt shaker and sugar bowl. “This used to be a Caribbean place, so people come here looking for spice,” Tolbert said.
“Back in the South, we’ve got a heavy hand for salt. We love our sweet tea but that’s syrup to some people,” Tolbert said.
The former owner, Hunan Lindsay (that’s Jubie), continued to operate the bar until a few months ago. “Now, I have it as well,” Tolbert said.
She plans to turn the former watering hole into a dessert bar.
“I make some phenomenal desserts,” Tolbert said. “I like to make my own cinnamon rolls, sticky buns and croissants,” she said. “Ooey-gooey that you can’t find everywhere.”
Tolbert hopes to remodel the restaurant and add staff, but for now that will have to wait.
“I have a whole bunch of ideas but don’t necessarily have the financial ability,” said Tolbert, who took out multiple loans to launch her business.
It hasn’t been an easy path for Tolbert and her husband of 35 years, Robert, who helps in the kitchen.
“I’m going to make it because failing is not an option. My son is my inspiration,” she said.
On a recent afternoon, hungry customers crowded around the restaurant’s hot food case.
Mark Baker, who grew up in Louisiana, grabbed a table at the front of the tiny restaurant and waited for his order, corn bread, ribs, greens.
“I found the restaurant on Yelp,” said Baker, who grew up in Louisiana.
“I’m from the South,” he said. “This is good soul food.”
Janice Podsada; email@example.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods