Seed Master’s Unlimited Cafe is not just a business to Barbara Chaney.
It is her ministry, her outlet. It is a way to reach people’s souls by means of a fried pork chop or lemon pepper chicken wings.
Because when a smiling Chaney emerges from her kitchen with a basket of food and places it on a white, lace tablecloth for her customers, she feels like she’s doing God’s work.
“I want people to feel comfortable and invited,” Chaney said. “I don’t give you anything that I can’t sit down at the table next to you and eat myself.”
Chaney opened the cafe at 744 Broad St. in February 2011 after selling pralines and cakes at the downtown farmer’s market. Her speciality is Southern short-order, and her customers say the cafe feels like walking into grandma’s kitchen.
Many of the regulars who come in for lunch simply know her as “Auntie.”
“It’s so homey,” said Reginal Richardson as he waited on a pork chop sandwich. “We were downtown and asked where to go to lunch, and everyone said we had to go to Seed Master’s.”
The cafe has six tables and soft gospel music playing in the background. There is a mural with “peace, faith, love and hope” painted above the front door, and delicate tablecloths covered in plastic cover most of the tables.
Chaney, 52, runs the cafe herself with occasional help from church friends and volunteers. She shops, cooks, cleans and prepares the food, and makes everything she serves from scratch.
But Chaney learned how to work young. She got her first paying job at 12 years old as a candy striper at a hospital in Mississippi, pouring water and getting ice for the rooms. In high school she worked in restaurants and later in life worked as a substitute teacher, a florist and a dental assistant.
But her passion always brought Chaney back to cooking.
“Cooking has been one of my oldest loves,” Chaney said. “You know the type of people who look in the kitchen and say ‘Oh, I have nothing to cook?’ I can always find something to cook.”
Chaney said she began in the kitchen around 9 years old with her grandmother in Mississippi. She started with a 7UP pound cake, and remembers her grandmother would always save her a sip of the soda after pouring most of the bottle into the batter.
As her first restaurant, Chaney said she hopes Seed Master’s will continue to attract the downtown lunch crowd and those who want an early dinner. With other restaurants situated more in the center of the downtown district, Chaney is still working to build a consistent customer base.
Still, her homemade meals have earned loyal regulars like Tiffany Boyd, who comes at least three times a week for chicken wings or a sausage dog.
“The food tastes amazing, and the customer service is on point,” Boyd said. “I’m here every week, always.”
In the future, Chaney said she hopes to expand her restaurant to offer more catering services. Along with her Southern cooking, Chaney is known for her red velvet cakes, cupcakes and pralines, which she said are some of the best in the South.
For now, Chaney is still using her food and her restaurant to help others. Every fourth Saturday, the cafe holds a free women’s prayer breakfast, where they “don’t teach religion, they teach relationships.”
During Christmas, she also put on a free holiday meal for the homeless and has passed out care packages to those in need during past Thanksgivings.
“When we plant a seed, we have to plant it in good grounds,” Chaney said. “Seed Master’s is good grounds. It’s clean grounds. It’s holy grounds. When people plant seeds here, whether they order a cake or eat lunch with me, they receive the harvest, and it’s something good.”