Serving soul to High Point since 1973

by Jordan Green

When Becky’s/Mary’s sends you home with food, you can count on stretching it into two meals. (photo by Jordan Green)

When NC Rep. Marcus Brandon found himself embroiled in controversy with his fellow Democrats over his support of charter schools, he scheduled a constituent meeting in High Point to explain his positions. Wisely, he chose Becky’s/Mary’s Soul Food Restaurant to cater the event.

“I think Becky’s and Mary’s was a bigger draw than Marcus Brandon,” the lawmaker said. “We had over a hundred folks at Morehead Recreation Center. People arrived early. It was clear that Becky’s and Mary’s was the catalyst.”

If your reference points in High Point are the furniture market, North Main Street, Lexington Avenue, Eastchester Drive or Kivett Drive, you may not know about East Washington Drive. It’s the historic commercial center of black High Point, and it’s literally across the tracks from Kivett Drive. The eminent Penn Griffin School for the Arts graces the street, but there are also distinguished brick storefronts whose windows are boarded up. Barbers and beauty shops have come and gone.

Sisters Rebecca and Mary Ingram worked at the L&M Restaurant, owned by lawyer John Lankford and George Monk. Rebecca, the oldest of nine children, moved to High Point from Anson County in 1959 after graduating from high school. Mary, the fifth child, was in ninth grade when she moved in with her sister. She finished high school in High Point.

In 1973, the sisters went into business for themselves. “I got mad and walked out,” Rebecca recalls. “All the customers followed me down here. I made [Lankford’s] business. He said it wouldn’t last.”

In 1983, they bought the building, a drug store in its former incarnation, for $6,000.

Built from textured blocks, nothing on the outside of the building advertises it as a restaurant except an unplugged neon “Open” sign in the window and a laminated sign that promises, “Service with a smile.” When I visited on a late Friday afternoon last week, Rebecca was seated with a customer at a booth. Mary was standing behind the cash register smiling and chatting with customers in a way that made it clear everyone was familiar to each other. The sisters are sweet ladies who come across as mildly shy.

They’re serving three entrees today: Fried chicken, fish and meatloaf. I’m a big fan of the meatloaf. It’s the ultimate comfort food, but something about the way Becky’s/Mary’s makes it strikes a delicate balance. The ground beef is tender and savory and each slice is slathered at the top with a sweet tomato paste.

Without producing a menu, Rebecca asks me what I want to eat.

Maybe because I had eaten their food at a catered event before or maybe because I had scanned the dry-erase board next to the cash register, I have no trouble making a decision: meatloaf, mac and cheese, candied yams and cornbread. Rebecca suggests adding green beans, and I readily agree. And ice tea. She takes my order without writing anything down and heads for the kitchen, good naturedly poking a sleeping customer and dumping a stranded tray along the way.

The tea comes back cut with lemonade — something I hadn’t specified but, in fact, wanted.

The meal, delivered on a Styrofoam plate with plastic utensils wrapped in a napkin, is everything soul food should be — heaping portions, soothing and tasty without being overcooked or oversaturated in fat. I have not eaten since breakfast, and I am mad for this food.

The meal holds a mystical quality to me, and when Rebecca sits down across from me I stammer out a question about what goes into the food to make it so good.

“It’s all in the hands,” she says. “You’ve got to get up in the morning and give God thanks. He does the rest. I’m 70. I’m blessed and highly faithful.”

Mary and employee Samantha McCullough interrupt with a playful jest at each other to the effect that McCullough sometimes thinks she’s the boss. Rebecca waits patiently and then continues.

“I was blessed from Day 1. I was walking down Washington Drive the day I got here, and I got a job right away. God blessed me all through the years. He wants you to live your life and be happy. It’s all in the hands.”

wanna go?

Becky’s Mary’s Soul Food Restaurant is located at 731 E. Washington Drive in High Point. The restaurant is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 336.883.9917 for information.