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Chef With Soul Sees Kitchen as a Healing Place

Vickey’s Soul Grill among first businesses incubated by Penn State project

By Emily Pidgeon
The Tube City Almanac
November 08, 2019
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Michael Kennedy and Vickey Giddens-Kennedy have opened Vickey’s Soul Grill Takeout & Catering with help from Penn State’s Mon Valley Launchbox. (Photo by Emily Pidgeon, special to Tube City Almanac)

Vickey Giddens-Kennedy wants to change how people think and feel about Southern cooking.

“Just let me get into a kitchen," says the owner of Vickey’s Soul Grill Takeout & Catering. Giddens-Kennedy says she found her own personal healing through food and wants to pass that gift onto others in the community.

Sometimes, Giddens-Kennedy says, she would pray, “Lord if you heal me, I’ll give this healing to others.”

"Food is my cure,” she says.

Vickey's Soul Grill is one of the first busineses to receive guidance and assistance from the Mon Valley Launchbox, a business incubator program of Penn State University’s Greater Allegheny Campus.

(Submitted photo courtesy Vickey’s Soul Grill Takeout & Catering)

Located in the former YWCA on Ninth Avenue in McKeesport, the Launchbox provides entrepreneurs a location to launch their business as well as mentorship, business training and classes on running a successful business.

The incubator is a collaboration between Penn State Greater Allegheny, Invent Penn State and the city of McKeesport “to engage the community, entrepreneurs and students in encouraging economic development and improving the quality of life in the Mon Valley,” according to the university’s website.

Giddens-Kennedy started cooking at the age of 6, following in the footsteps of her father, who worked as a chef for 26 years.

“People would come to my mom’s house just (because) they (heard) a 6-year-old child was cooking,” Giddens-Kennedy says. Neighbors claimed she cooked at 6 “like I was the age of 60.”

With the help of the Launchbox, Vickey’s Soul Grill Takeout & Catering was incorporated in November of 2018 and held its grand opening Jan. 18.

(Submitted photo courtesy Vickey’s Soul Grill Takeout & Catering)

In their kitchen at the Ninth Avenue building, Giddens-Kennedy, alongside her loving and equally passionate husband Michael, prepare traditional Southern soul food classics such as fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, black eyed peas and coleslaw.

They’re also introducing dishes such as oxtails, turkey ribs, “24 karat gold” wings and deep-fried ribs to the Mon Valley. She keeps her spices a secret — some of them she grows herself.

She injects equal parts deeply seeded faith and an intense passion for food into her cooking. She calls herself a “Woman of God” and believes that by imparting this belief into her food from purchase to preparation and serving that she is fulfilling her own soul food ministry.

(Submitted photo courtesy Vickey’s Soul Grill Takeout & Catering)

Giddens-Kennedy also is looking for ways to cook favorable food but without the stereotypical things that can make Southern food unhealthy. 

“I’m learning with research and studying how to cook healthier soul food,” she says. “I’m not going to tell you that everything is healthy, but a lot of the food is healthy.”

Giddens-Kennedy also prepares a very special soup once a year she calls “The Garden of Eden Soup of Miracles.” Some of her customers call it “Jesus Soup,” she says, laughing.

“Because it’s so, so healthy,” she says. “It’s a lot of different vegetables. People don't understand what type of vegetables, that if you combine (them) together, it really will please your body. And I found that.”

Giddens-Kennedy believes her faith, combined with her food, allows her to connect on a personal level with her customers. She fervently prays over her food as she prepares it, saying she wants customers to fall in love with her food, and to keep coming back.

Recently, Vickey’s Soul Grill had the privilege of feeding a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff. Giddens-Kennedy dreams of cooking for the Steelers players one day, and hopes they might visit her and enjoy a meal together.

Preparing their AFC Championship celebration meal is also on her bucket list, she says.

Giddens-Kennedy is using GrubHub, UberEats and her own personal delivery service to bring food into the homes of her customers. Together with her husband, she is currently searching for a new permanent location around the area to reach even more customers and grow their business.

The Kennedys are also working with a silent investor to expand to new areas. It is Giddens-Kennedy’s wish to be in a new location as soon as possible and to hire staff.

She also would like to reinvest the knowledge that was given to her through mentorship into other businesses in our community. Giddens-Kennedy says she wants to bring new entrepreneurs under her wing and provide the same guidance and support that she was given if they want to start their own businesses.

“I want them to know that no matter how hard it looks right now, I promise you with encouragement, it’s possible,” she says.

Vickey’s Soul Grill Takeout & Catering is located inside the Common Ground Building (former McKeesport YWCA), 410 Ninth Ave., McKeesport. Hours are 12 noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. It can also be found online at https://www.facebook.com/vickeyssoulgrilltakeoutandcatering/.

Emily Pidgeon is a freelance writer in McKeesport. This is her first article for Tube City Almanac. She may be reached at emily.pidgeon87@gmail.com.

Originally published November 08, 2019.

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