On Thursday, Barbara Devan plans to open Tasties Restaurant, on 52nd Street north of Girard Avenue. With velour seats, tufted banquettes, granite tables, designer lighting, stylish tableware, and a menu of intricately plated soul food and a bar list full of cocktails, it's arguably the fanciest restaurant in West Philadelphia outside University City.
In fact, her own soul-food takeout shop next door, also called Tasties, is more typical in the area.
The opening not only creates a destination for diners, it's become a personal victory.
In 2006, Devan, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, was in her early 20s, selling soul food and burgers out of a mom-and-pop store at 21st and Berks Streets in North Philadelphia under the Tasties name. "I didn't know anything," said Devan, now 36. "I just wanted to be in business."
She closed the business a year later, and got back into the game in 2012 by leasing the kitchen at Jollies West at 3800 Lancaster Ave. She then bought a food truck and in 2013 opened the first Tasties soul-food restaurant, at 1214 N. 52nd St., following up four years after that with a location at 5241 Germantown Ave. in Germantown.
We sat down last week as she prepared for the opening
I was doing credit cards [fraud]. I'm not scared to tell my background. That's the past.
Food has always been a passion. Probably more than a passion but just in the bloodline, from my grandmother and my mother. I used to always be cooking as a kid with my grandmother, then my mom, selling dinners or just cooking. We just come from a cooking background. But once I got into trouble several times, then I knew that I couldn't keep getting into trouble, that I was going to be getting sent away. I had gotten sentenced for six to 12 months in Montgomery County. I didn't go to prison, but I was on probation. I paid my restitution, then I was like, 'I can't do this life. Let me do something. Got to do something else.' … I had to make a better situation for my two kids [now 20 and 13]. That was really a life-changing situation.
Once I opened up the door for business [next door], I didn't really know how to run a business. I was selling food like I was just selling dinners out my house.
I was always a hustler. I just took the hustle and put it into my business. Mix the hustle with the business; always had a very motivated drive. I'm an outgoing person, a go-getter, so I just put it into cooking. And now, my world is about Tasties and cooking.
It's very, very challenging, because with food, you have to stay consistent, you have to stay up with your employees. And then you have to think about people's feelings, people not doing their job, they're not cleaning the restaurant right. It's a lot, but just trying to get a system to get it down pat.
You get nice, big, full portions of food. We've got a couple of new dishes that's going on our menu, like lollipop lamb and fried lobster. … Seafood mac, lobster mash. But we're going to stick to the shrimp and stay within our soul food area, because that's what brought us here now.
My dream, always, was answered. I've been in business to get a restaurant, nice dining restaurant, and one of my goals was to come down to Center City to give back. I had the opportunity to purchase this building, so I was like, 'Let me bring the upscale to West Philly.' Upscale dining experience to the unserved community. This community needs something different. Everybody doesn't want to travel to go downtown. Let them come to us. Let me change the dynamic on 52nd Street. I definitely will be a trendsetter for right here. …
We're just looking to keep growing — just keep expanding, and trying to really do something good in the community. At Tasties [the smaller eateries], we're always giving back. We close our business every Thanksgiving to feed the community. I'm Muslim, so I feed the Muslims every Ramadan. I do back-to-school drives. I just have a very warm-filled heart, with giving. Then I run my business like it's a family business.