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Chef Behind State Fair Favorite 'West Indies Soul Food' Has Sights Set On St. Paul Kitchen

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- A Minnesota State Fair favorite will soon serve flavors of the Caribbean from a new kitchen.

You may have tried West Indies Soul Food in the International Bazaar. Now, owner Sharon Richards-Noel is cooking up a new way to fill her community's hearts and bellies.

Richards-Noel started West Indies Soul Food decades ago in a north Minneapolis church kitchen.

"I'm from Trinidad. I've been around people from down South, I've been around people from Jamaica, and what I do with my spices is I mix my spices," Richards-Noel said. "That's why I call it 'West Indies Soul Food,' it's cooking from the soul."

Over the years, you've seen her at the Midtown Global Market, in her food truck, and out at the State Fair. And soon, you'll find her at a brick-and-mortar restaurant on St. Paul's University Avenue.

"I'm tired of just jumping from kitchen to kitchen," Richards-Noel said. "I saw this when the building first went up, and I looked at it and I was like, 'That's my kitchen.'"

Sharon Richards-Noel of West Indies Soul Food
Sharon Richards-Noel (credit: CBS)

But it won't just be a kitchen cooking up great food. It will also be a place to serve young people.

"We really wanted to provide some affordable space and bring vibrancy back to University Avenue," said Kizzy Downie, CEO of Model Cities of St. Paul.

Using lessons from her own experiences, Richard-Noel will incorporate a youth community program to compliment her food.

"We're gonna have a culinary art part of it, where we're gonna teach kids culinary art skills, and prepare them if they want to work in a restaurant, they want to write a business plan to start their own food truck," she said.

"It's gonna focus on helping kids have those mindset skills to be able to have better resiliency, to be able to know how to make decisions when times are really tough," said Deb Sauder, a consultant working on the youth program with Richards-Noel.

And if anyone knows that recipe for success, it's Sharon Richards-Noel.

"I've learned a lot being in the industry for a long time, so now I'm like, 'OK, I'm ready to show you guys what I have,'" she said. "I don't stop. I just continue moving forward."

Richards-Noel is still fundraising for her space, which will feature a takeout counter and catering business. She's hoping to have a grand opening this summer, and start the youth program in the fall.


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