Chef Doris Is Serving Detroit's Best Soul Food from Her Front Lawn
When you turn into the neighborhood down Steele Avenue and Plymouth on Detroit's west side, remnants of summers past still linger: kids running barefoot across the grass, men washing cars, all to the soundtrack of ice cream truck music. What modernizes this picture is the line of eager patrons standing outside a small Pepto Bismol-pink food stand.
The Sharpest Eatery: Home of the $5 Meal sits in the front yard of the first house on the corner. "Today we have macaroni and cheese, greens, red beans, and rice," says Sharpest Eatery owner Doris Sharpe-Frasier out the rectangular front window. The neighbors call her Miss Doris. "If you add meat, that'll take about 5 to 7 minutes."
Miss Doris' pick up-only food stand garnered newfound attention after a local newspaper columnist came upon her "$5 dollar a meal" sign. What followed was a series of questions, an impromptu photoshoot, and, the next week, a front-page cover in the Detroit Free Press.
"I never knew he was gonna put me on the front page. Lord no, the front page!" says Sharpe-Frasier, 73. "He asked me lots of questions and, of course, I told him about my family and how we got started, but I didn't know he would put all of that in the story. It was a big surprise." Sharpest Eatery's $5 meals have been selling out every day.
Even after all that attention, Miss Doris' biggest priority is making sure her community is fed and ready for the winter. "I rely so much on my kids," she says. "My 18-year-old, 300-pound, 6'2 grandson helps me with the prep, and my son and daughter do some of the shopping, even though I really like to do the shopping myself to make sure it's right."
Open four days a week at noon for the lunch crowd, the stand sells out most of its sides by 4 p.m., and patrons are asked to return the next day earlier for better pickings.
"Most days I take a nap once we close at 5; then when I wake up, I'm cutting and cleaning greens or chopping sweet potatoes, sitting right on my couch watching CSI," says Sharpe-Frasier. "I really shop all over the city, not in just one place. It depends on where the food is freshest. Sometimes people will drop off vegetables that they grew in their garden. A man just dropped off two bushels of greens yesterday. I started cleaning them last night."
Widespread popularity has advantages and disadvantages for the church-going woman who spends Wednesday evenings selling meals at the Tireman Conference & Banquet Center and opens her food stand Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m. Because the food stand is on her front lawn, patrons have access to her personal living space. Red spinach grows around the side of her home, and huge leaves of collard greens greet you at the back door. An hour before opening, she often opens her front door and smells of roasted sweet potatoes fill the block.
"One morning a man came knocking on my door at 7 o'clock in the morning, saying, 'Your website says you're closed but I wanted to check,'" she says. "People will naturally knock on my front door when there's a closed sign up. It doesn't stop people from ringing my doorbell."
It's true—business is booming for the grandmother of eleven grandkids, five biological children, two adopted, and a whole church and neighborhood of people who adore her. "I raised five children by myself, so I know it's hard out there," says Miss Doris. "And it's harder now than it was back then, because you got the pandemic."
A fixture in her community and her church, Third New Hope Baptist Church, Miss Doris earned both a bachelor's degree and master's in business before she followed her heart at the age of 70 to enter culinary school.
With her late husband's support, Miss Doris founded and ran the Sharpest Eatery while it was stationed in the nearby flea market for more than 10 years.
"The flea market closed and one of the owners asked me if I wanted to keep the food stand," she says. "My husband and I thought about it and they bought it on around here and sat it right on the side of the house. It's been sitting right here ever since—feeding people good meals that they can afford."