Tackling an appetite with soul food dishes

You won’t catch this former Pittsburgh Steeler running offensive plays, but there’s a chance you may find him running out of the kitchen with a fresh order of “Soul Rolls.” Barrett Charles Soul Food Restaurant

You won’t catch this former Pittsburgh Steeler running offensive plays, but there’s a chance you may find him running out of the kitchen with a fresh order of “Soul Rolls.”

Barrett Charles Soul Food Restaurant at 5920 Green St. in Germantown, is owned and operated by Super Bowl XL champion Barrett Charles Brooks and his wife, Sonji. In addition to serving some of the best soul food in the city, the restaurant offers live entertainment, networking opportunities and an at-home atmosphere.

“The family intermingles and really comes together around the dinner table,” Barrett said. “The restaurant is an extension of our family.” The couple had talked for years about opening a restaurant, and planned to name it after a cookbook Sonji had recently finished, “From Sonji’s Kitchen, for Barrett Charles.”

She’d put months of practice and work into her own kitchen to write the cookbook. But with her career as a registered nurse and Barrett’s placement on the Steelers’ roster, the question was when they’d have the time to open their dream restaurant.

That opportune time presented itself as a blessing in disguise after Barrett suffered a knee injury and wasn’t expected to return for the 2006-2007 football season. Thanks to the injury he simply “had nothing better to do,” he said. The husband and wife duo began laying the foundation right away, and soon the power couple’s dream turned into a complete social experience. Barrett Charles first opened its doors in December, bringing into fruition a long-time passion of Sonji’s.

Barrett, a St. Louis native, brings his down-to-earth southern hospitality
to the table. The restaurant staff is mostly family and close friends of Barrett and Sonji, which contributes to its hospitable environment. Since opening night, Barrett Charles has become one of Philadelphia’s social hot spots, hosting
comedy shows, open mic nights, karaoke and poetry slams throughout each week. Although the Brooks family resides in New Jersey, both husband and wife have a personal connection to Philadelphia. Sonji was born and raised in South Philadelphia, while Barrett began his football career as a second-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995.

From that concept, the restaurant’s slogan
was spawned: “Barrett Charles, Famous Since 1995.”

This isn’t the couple’s first endeavor. Sonji is also founder and coordinator of “Brooks Alternative,” a program in Cherry Hill, NJ designed for young adults ages 16 and older who wish to pursue a career in the medical field. Her program offers certifications for patient care, phlebotomy and EKG technicians and nurse’s aides.

The program also works with a staffing agency to assist students with job placement once they’re been certified. Barrett began his own community initiative last year to assist disadvantaged children and their families. The “Tackling Together” foundation offers assistance to low income families and has already awarded six scholarships to underprivileged adults.

Barrett and Sonji are currently working to establish a Gateway to Learning Center. The center will grant access to computers, and tutoring will be available for struggling students. Also, counselors will be available to assist students as they apply for college and scholarships. The secrets to their success: Humility, spirituality and motivation.

“No question, I think we’re successful,” Barrett said. “I define success as just being happy with yourself at the end of the day. A lot of people characterize success as material things, but I know a lot of people with a lot of money. And they’re not necessarily happy.” As of February, Barrett has decided to hang up his helmet for good. After accomplishing everything he’d hoped to as far as football was concerned, he was excited to walk away with more to gain than to lose.

“Winning Super Bowl XL was an unbelievable
feeling,” he said. “As soon as the ball was kicked, and all those lights started flashing … it was a storybook ending.”

He stresses the importance of realizing that every story must come to an end sooner or later, and offers this message to prospective football players.

“NFL stands for ‘Not For Long,’ so definitely get your education. You can only play football for as long as your body will let you,” he said. “And even then, out of the 100,000 college football players that graduate each year, they’ll only fill 500 spots on the NFL roster.”

What’s guaranteed to last is the memory of your dining experience at Barrett Charles. Pull up a chair, have a “Mama Burger” and make yourself at home

“On average, customers stay well over two hours,” Sonji said. “It’s like they don’t want to leave. I guess that’s what happens when real people and real food meet each other for the first time.”

Dariel Johnson can be reached at dariel.johnson@temple.edu.

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