Soul Daddy Review - Mall of America - Winner of America’s Next Great Restaurant

May 04, 2011 by Visual Recipes | Filed in Food News, Reviews | 4 Comments

- Scroll Down For Soul Daddy Food Pictures and Menu -

Update: 6/29/11 - All three Soul Daddy restaurant locations have now been closed. They should have picked Spice Coast as I stated in my review conclusion at the bottom of this post.

On Sunday, May 1st, Jamawn J. Woods’ healthy soul food restaurant concept Soul Daddy was chosen as the winner on NBC’s show America’s Next Great Restaurant.

America’s Next Great Restaurant - About The Show

If you haven’t seen the show, here is a quick rundown. The producers of the show Top Chef along with the NBC network created a reality show where people from all walks of life vied for the chance to have their restaurant concept come to life. There was a nationwide search and 21 finalists were chosen. Each week judges eliminated contestants based on their performance working on and running their concept restaurants. The judges were: Chipotle Mexican Grill founder Steve Ells, Australian chef Curtis Stone, Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay, and Miami restaurateur Lorena Garcia. The judges served as mentors to the contestants throughout the competition. Also, all of the judges personally invested their own money into the winning restaurant concept. The winning concept then went on to become a chain of 3 restaurants, with locations in Hollywood, Minneapolis, and New York City.

About The Winner - Jamawn J. Woods:

Jamawn, or “Jay” Woods, is a 32-year-old from Detroit, Mich., who created and ran a catering company out of his home called “W3s Woods’ Wings and Waffles”. According to the Detroit Free Press, he was actually running the catering company part-time as he worked as a forklift driver. As word spread on Facebook about his delicious chicken and waffles, a casting director for the show happened to view the posted comments and invited Jamawn out to Chicago to audition.  Once Jamawn was on the show, he made it clear to the judges, often through tears, that winning would completely change him and his family’s life.

Soul Daddy - The Winning Concept:

Originally, Woods’ concept was to offer the same soul food as he did from his home catering business — fried chicken, wings, waffles, etc. He also was going to use the same name “W3s Woods’ Wings and Waffles”. However, at the recommendation of the judges, he made the choice to change not only the name, but the menu offerings as well. Some other elements of the original concept that were fazed out as the show progressed were sports motifs and the heavy usage of the color purple.

By the end of the show, Woods’ final and winning concept was a fast casual restaurant that served healthy soul food. Even at the suggestion of both Bobby Flay and Woods’ own chef to keep fried chicken on the menu, Woods stayed true to his new healthy soul food concept by omitting it.

Woods also decided that music from Motown records would be played over the restaurant’s speakers to amplify the soulful ambiance and to provide a nice nod to Detroit – the home of Motown.

Soul Daddy Menu

Soul Daddy Menu

Soul Daddy Restaurant Review - Mall of America (MOA) - Bloomington, Minnesota:

- Grand Opening Day / Our Experience

We arrived at Soul Daddy at the Mall of America (MOA), in Bloomington, Minn., at around 5 pm on May 1st — its grand opening day. The line was long, but it only took around 5 minutes to get to the first server.

Soul Daddy Mall of America

Soul Daddy service is just like Chipotle — you tell the first server what main entree you would like, and then you’re passed down the line being asked what sides you want.

Soul Daddy Menu Board

Unfortunately, they were all out of baked chicken and roast pork. The only entree item that was available were the ribs. One of the servers mentioned that the wait time for the roast chicken was approximately 20 minutes. As we progressed through the line and chose our sides to go along with our ribs, we asked for a corn bread waffle. We were quickly informed that they were all out of corn bread waffles and that they would be glad to bring them to our table once they were ready. About 30 to 40 minutes later the corn bread waffles were finally brought out to us just as we were finishing up our ribs and sides. Being that it took so long, I believed that they may have forgotten about us.  What is commendable though is that multiple times workers came around asking how we liked the food or if we needed anything else, they also apologized and distributed buy-one-get-one-free entree coupons.

Soul Daddy Server

- May 7th Experience

We went back six days later at the same time of the day and you could sense that they had a much better handle on the operation as everything was much smoother. It wasn’t as crowded as the opening day. All the food items were in stock and there were no issues.

Soul Daddy Food Review:

Country Style Ribs - The ribs are Soul Daddy’s most expensive entree on the menu. The ribs have a dry spice rub on them and are very tender with a smokey flavor. The spice rub isn’t hot, just slightly peppery. If you are not into the spice it is easy enough to scrape off. They are good, but pouring some of the Soul Daddy BBQ sauce on them makes them so much better. While most of the ribs were extremely tender, I did receive some end pieces off one of the slabs and that meat was very tough and chewy. The ribs were a little greasy but that is to be expected as most ribs are. For the price, I wouldn’t order them again.

Soul Daddy Country Style Ribs

The Sauces:

BBQ Sauce - Went perfect with the ribs and pork sandwich. Was delicious.
Honey Mustard - Really tasty. Went great with the pork and the chicken.
Hot Sauce - Not that hot, but has some kick. I couldn’t find anything that went really well with it.

Soul Daddy Sauces

Pork Sandwich - The pulled pork sandwich consist of pulled pork on a wheat bun. I poured some of the Soul Daddy BBQ sauce over the pork and it was delicious. I would order this again.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Baked Herb Chicken - The herb baked chicken was cooked well and had good flavor, but the skin was really salty. I would order it again.

Soul Daddy Baked Herb Chicken

Wild Rice Salad - The wild rice salad is served cold and it contains wild rice, pecan bits, cranberries, and I believe some kind of very light dressing. The cranberries add a nice sweet punch of flavor. I really enjoyed the wild rice and it is definitely a side that I would order again.

Soul Daddy Wild Rice Salad

Sweet Potato Salad - The sweet potato salad is served cold and is just cubes of lightly cooked sweet potatoes with an herb sprinkled on top. I was extremely disappointed in the sweet potatoes as I like mine baked until soft with cinnamon and possibly some butter. These sweet potatoes were very firm, just shy of having a crunch, and had absolutely no flavor. I mean come on…. no cinnamon, sugar or butter? Being that they were so devoid of flavor, I would never order the sweet potatoes again.

Soul Daddy Sweet Potato Salad

Cabbage Slaw- Shredded cabbage and carrots. The cabbage slaw had almost no dressing on it, and thus had no flavor. Would not order again unless I wanted to add some crunch to my pulled pork sandwich by dumping it on.

Soul Daddy Cabbage Slaw

Green Salad - The green salad consists of green beans served cold. They seemed to have been hardly cooked as they were hard and crunchy. They were also coated with a light vinaigrette dressing that didn’t do anything to wow me over.  I would not order them again.

Whole Wheat Biscuits - The whole wheat biscuits are great, especially when you spread their sweet butter on them. They have some kick to them thanks to some coarsely ground black pepper on top.

Corn Bread Waffles - A southern-style corn bread in waffle shape. Simple and delicious with just a slight touch of sweetness. Spread some of their sweet butter on them and you will want to keep ordering them. This is one of my favorite menu items.

Soul Daddy Whole Wheat Biscuit and Corn Bread Waffle

Black-Eyed Pea Salad - A cold side of black eyed peas with red peppers and crunchy celery.  The black eyed peas sit and are mixed in a delicious citrus like vinaigrette that is very refrshing. Another one of my favorite menu items. I would definitely get this again.

Soul Daddy Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Cheese Grits - I can’t remember ever having grits before, so I don’t have anything to compare these to but this was disgusting. It was like a gelatinous corn bread watery mixture with a cheddar note. Horrible.

Soul Daddy Cheese Grits

Collard Greens - The collard greens were great, they were hot and had good crunch with an acidic / vinegar like dressing. Would order again.

Sweet Tea - It’s tea and it’s sweet. Nothing surprising.

Now that I have tried all the menu offerings, if I was to go back, I would order the pork sandwich with BBQ sauce, and order 2 sides: the black eyed peas, and either the wild rice or the collard greens. I would also get a corn bread muffin with some sweet butter.

Should Soul Daddy Have Won?

Based on my observations of the other competitor’s menu items I viewed on the show, I honestly don’t think that Soul Daddy should have been the winner of America’s Next Great Restaurant. In my opinion, there are already enough BBQ / soul-food places where I can get similar offerings. I mean just in the Mall of America (MOA), not a couple shops down from Soul Daddy is a Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant serving similar food. Also, isn’t healthy and soul food an oxymoron? Additionally, there are no desserts offered. I just don’t see Soul Daddy being successful. It costs too much, and there isn’t enough stand out menu items.

I strongly believe that Spice Coast, a modern fast-casual Indian restaurant concept should have been chosen as America’s Next Great Restaurant. I’m sick of seeing the same food being served everywhere and Spice Coast would have provided a much needed change. It would have introduced many Americans to unfamiliar and delicious flavor profiles. Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle even mentioned these points in the final episode, so I’m quite perplexed as to why Spice Coast was not chosen.  However, Sudhir, the man behind the concept of Spice Coast did make a horrible judgement call in the final episode. He introduced tacos, quesadillas and carnitas to the menu, totally transforming the restaurant into a Chipotle clone. It seemed to become a Mexican restaurant with subtle Indian flavors. I do believe that if the judges had chosen Spice Coast they could have easily worked with Sudhir to fix those issues by reintroducing strictly Indian items such as curries.

What are your thoughts? Have you tried Soul Daddy? Do you think Woods should have won? If not, who do you believe should have?

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May 29, 2011

Soul Daddy!!! I loved this guys concept from the begining, and I loved how it developed through the show. BTW I loved his purple passion. Sorry to see they took that out of the decor. I can hardly wait until there is a Soul Daddy here in Maryland! I love the concept. I can’t get food like his unless I travel to N.C. or further south.  I know the guy from Spice Coast was tapping an un-tapped fast food market, him and the meat ball guy had a good concept as well, but they had poor delivery on the show. The show was asking for good food and good service. The spice dude didn’t impress me as a guy who wanted to jump in and get his hands dirty. That’s a very important thing for an owner of a company to be able to do. I did really feel for the meatball guy on the last show. Bottom-line, I like Soul Daddy — he got the job done, it’s awesome he won!!!!!!


Jun 16, 2011

Isn’t it ironic that Spice Coast got criticized for copying Chipotle, and then they ended up taking the winner and making it look like Chipotle?

Jamawn seems like a swell guy, but there are already lots of (very good) inexpensive soul food and BBQ places in a fast casual format.  The concept is not new.

I too love Indian flavors and was disappointed Spice Coast didn’t win.  I can’t find good Indian food without going to a fairly formal restaurant with a 12 page menu and $15+ entrees, or a dingy hole in the wall where I worry about sanitation and walking through the neighborhood.  A good fast casual modern Indian chain would make it more accessible.  I hope Sudhir goes ahead and opens up a place.

The Chipotle format works well.  I go there all the time, almost too frequently.  I’d love to see it copied with other modernized flavors.  Hey, Vietnamese would be great too!

Marc Azada

Sep 22, 2011

The food in Soul Daddy looks delicious. I hope I could visit that place someday and enjoy their sumptuous meals.


Dec 21, 2012

Mmmm ... the sweet potato salad looks really delicious!

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