Corinne’s Place in Camden is an iconic soul food restaurant and landmark in the South Jersey community for more than three decades, but it hasn’t just fed people with Cajun turkey wings, greens, cornbread and sweet potatoes. It has fed peoples’ souls.
The restaurant world has taken notice of the enduring contribution of the famous eatery: Corinne’s Place won a 2022 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award, one of six recipients for the award this year.
The James Beard Foundation says the award is given “to locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community. This year’s honorees join the ranks of over 100 restaurants across the country that have received the Award since the category was introduced in 1998.”
Honorees will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on June 13 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the release stated.
Corinne Bradley-Powers, a lifelong Camden resident, opened the restaurant in 1989 on Haddon Avenue in the city. She has had a love affair with food, but she said it’s the people, the youth, who have really kept her going.
Getting an award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation certainly means something to Bradley-Powers. She heard about the win from a local restaurant critic who regularly stays in touch with her.
“That’s so special,” Bradley-Powers said in a phone interview with the Courier Post. “God is good. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
“Being in Camden all my life and just taking a risk by faith, got in the business and it was favor by God that I’ve been in business that long and had favor of people coming from all over, in spite of what they heard about Camden, people would come in,” she said. “It wasn’t Camden that kept me that long, people come from all over, which is a blessing. I give it the best I got. Everything I do, I pray on it.
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“Just think of it, a Black woman in Camden, on Haddon Avenue, in spite of everything, and this is one of the hardest businesses there is,” she continued. “I started with nothing. They say you’ve got to have backup money? All I had was faith, that’s it. I kept it moving and God has been good.”
Bradley-Powers has mentored and taught many of the youth in the community about food, life and has encouraged them to go after their dreams.
She said she gets great joy out of seeing some that she mentored go on to great heights. It’s been one of the most fulfilling things about her career.
“I used to be a juvenile counselor so I carry that on as I got the restaurant,” she shared. “It was not just a restaurant, it was a haven for dysfunctional kids and dysfunctional families. Through the years, I have employed a lot of young people, starting at 14 on up. A lot are college graduates (now), case workers, they can tell you some stories. Cooking was my passion but juveniles was also my passion. It wasn’t just a job. I’d tell them how to do their hair, how to look, different things that they didn’t get at home.”
For Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen, it’s the turkey wings.
“I love her turkey wings,” he said when asked about his favorite dish at Corinne’s Place. “I’ve probably tried everything on the menu.”
After a meal at Corinne’s, he joked, “you do one of two things: You have to go home and take a long nap or you have to go for a long walk.”
Corinne’s Place has been feeding Camden’s residents with gigantic soul food portions “since I was a teenager,” Carstarphen noted.
“That’s a testament to her cooking, her longevity and her commitment to our community,” he added. “It’s well deserved, and I am so proud of her and so happy for her.”
Bradley-Powers “is an icon, an institution, an anchor; she’s an incredible person with an incredible spirit.”
Rashaan Hornsby, who owns Magic on Haddon, a clothing and accessories store down the street from Corinne’s Place and is president of the Haddon Avenue Business Association, called Bradley-Powers “a staple in our community.”
“For an African American woman — take color out of it, for any woman — to be in business for this long, in the restaurant business which is so difficult, she’s a great example for young men and women who might want to own their own business.”
Bradley-Powers has mentored generations of young people, he noted, teaching them about the restaurant business, but also about a good work ethic, about building relationships, and about building something of one’s own.
“All that she’s put into the community, it goes such a long way, and it really speaks to her character,” he added.
In announcing the American Classics Award, the James Beard Foundation said that “Corinne Bradley-Powers has been keeping Haddon Avenue festive since 1989 with a birthday-pink dining room and a devoted post-church Sunday rush.
“It could be the Cajun-spiced turkey wings, the picnic-perfect black-eyed peas, the tender pig’s feet in zesty sauce, the smothered pork chops, or the sweet potato pie.
“But there’s no doubt her classic fried chicken — its simply seasoned crust fried to a golden, heat-bubbled cracker shell concealing juicy meat — is also a prime reason this restaurant has remained an enduring touchstone for home-style soul food,” the foundation said. “Over the past three decades, it has become a pillar of community at the heart of one of America’s lowest-income cities. Bradley-Powers’ longevity as a business owner remains a beacon of hope that continues to inspire.”
During the early stages of the pandemic, the Foundation noted, the restaurant transformed a vacant lot beside the storefront into a tented gathering space for tranquil outdoor dining. It is known as the oasis, “complete with a trickling fountain and warm hospitality to go along with Corinne’s irresistible soul food platters, it lives up to its name.”
Technically, Bradley-Powers does not own Corinne’s Place any longer. She sold it in 2019, she said, to Trevor Vaughan and Craig Sawyer, but she still maintains a consulting role and has her family involved in day-to-day operations. She makes regular appearances at the restaurant.
“I’m doing less, I’m just consulting,” she said. “I go in there and try to keep them on the track that I did. I’m in and out of there. The new guys said, ‘You’ve got to be in and out because people come in and ask for you.’ We have such a rapport with people. It’s like a family thing.”
Celebrity chef Aaron McCargo, a Camden native, has memories of Corinne’s Place dating back to when he attended Camden High School and worked at a party and wholesale supply store. It was before many restaurants had vans to load things up in. He would load up Bradley-Powers’ vehicle with tons of takeout containers and other goods. He loves what she’s meant to the community.”
And Bradley-Powers was there to cheer for McCargo when he had his big moment.
“Ms. Corinne was one of the first to congratulate me, alongside Patty Jackson from WDAS (FM), when I won ‘Next Food Network Star,’ ” McCargo recalled. “The James Beard Award is one of the highest honors in the food space. It’s an award not just for food service and longevity of your career in the culinary world but also as a humanitarian.
“As the first from the City of Camden and [among a few] African-American women to receive this prestigious award, she has definitely put us on the map for all she has done in the community, and I look forward to hopefully joining her one day on that list of greatness.”
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Carstarphen said he is in a position to know great soul food when he sees it, having traveled extensively and eaten it all over.
“But when people hear I’m from Camden, they know Corinne’s Place. If you were doing a TV show highlighting a place like Chicago or New York, they go to the best places—and that’s what she is for us.”
The warm welcome he gets at the restaurant, he joked, comes with a price he’s happy to pay: “She comes right at me,” he laughed, “and she will tell me just what she thinks I need to hear. But she also makes you feel comfortable, like you’re in her space and she’s going to feed you well.”
It is the mission of the James Beard Awards to “recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as demonstrate commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”
Other 2022 America’s Classics Award winners include: Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks, Calif.; Solly’s Grille in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Wo Hop in New York City; The Busy Bee in Atlanta and Florence’s Restaurant in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee “reviews all recommendations submitted by the public during the open call in the fall, as well as those submitted by the voting body. The committee discusses the entries, conducts a vote, and ultimately selects the honorees. Six of the 12 regions recognized by the awards program are included within each Awards cycle and rotated to the next cycle so that each region is included every other year. To be eligible for this award, establishments must have been in existence for at least 10 years.
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“You’ve got to give back,” Bradley-Powers said. “I asked God to bless me so I could be a blessing to someone else. That’s what we’ve been doing. It ain’t just a restaurant … Once a year, I’d bring senior citizens in. I’d have whole buffet, get pictures taken of them and feed them for free and give them presents.
“You’ve got to be about the people. I’m about the people. Our people. God has been good. You do what you’re supposed to do and He’ll do what He’s supposed to do.”
South Jersey’s past James Beard nominees include Joey Baldino, owner of Zeppoli in Collingswood and Palizzi Social Club in South Philly and Luca Manteca, owner of Quahog’s Seafood Shack and other restaurants in Cape May County.
Corinne’s Place is located at 1254 Haddon Ave., Camden. Visit https://corinnesplace.com/
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