Kathy Atwater

Interviewed by Monica Palmeira on March 29, 2012
Ms. Atwater gives an overview of food access in the community when she was growing up and how her family’s attitudes toward food have developed over the course of her life. Starting with a discussion of her mother’s kitchen and garden, she describes the role of food in her family and in the neighborhood community, and highlights the importance of food as a centerpiece for social gatherings and celebrations. She discusses how she learned some cooking techniques from her mother and her uncle, and how she is still learning and changing her methods. She recalls the different restaurants, grocery stores and local markets in the neighborhood, such as the Country Junction, Bill’s Barbecue, Hollywood Grill, Mama Dip’s, Dillard’s Barbecue, Pan-Pan Restaurant, Cliff’s Meat Market, Weaver Store on Brooks Street, Mason’s Store, Fowler’s, and A&P.

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Kathy Atwater


Ms. Atwater gives an overview of food access in the community when she was growing up and how her family’s attitudes toward food have developed over the course of her life. Starting with a discussion of her mother’s kitchen and garden, she describes the role of food in her family and in the neighborhood community, and highlights the importance of food as a centerpiece for social gatherings and celebrations. She discusses how she learned some cooking techniques from her mother and her uncle, and how she is still learning and changing her methods. She recalls the different restaurants, grocery stores and local markets in the neighborhood, such as the Country Junction, Bill’s Barbecue, Hollywood Grill, Mama Dip’s, Dillard’s Barbecue, Pan-Pan Restaurant, Cliff’s Meat Market, Weaver Store on Brooks Street, Mason’s Store, Fowler’s, and A&P.


Atwater, Kathy


Oral History


Marian Cheek Jackson Center


Marian Cheek Jackson Center




Open for research.


MP3 (unknown bitrate)





Oral History Item Type Metadata


Monica Palmeira


Atwater, Kathy

Interview Date



Lindsay Street, Chapel Hill, NC


MP: Here we go. So I'm just going to do the quick little introduction. So my name is Monica, today is the...is it the 30th?

KA: Twenty...oh yeah, thirtieth.

MP: Thirtieth of March, I can't even believe it, 2012, and we're here at 314 Lindsay Street, with Ms. Kathy Atwater, and we're here to talk a little bit about the foodways documentary, the name of the book is actually called A Place at the Table.

KA: Oh, okay.

MP: So just a little play on that. So my first question is just because this is one of the first times I've ever sat down and spoken with you, how long you've lived in Chapel Hill, like were you born here? Some of your earlier memories.

KA: Born and raised.

MP: Born and raised. Were you born here in this home, or not here?

KA: Actually down the street.

MP: Down the street.

KA: Right down there at 405 Lindsay Street.

MP: 405 Lindsay Street.

KA: Actually I was adopted at 10 months old, but I was raised at 405 Lindsay Street. And that's where my mom and dad, and then this house where I am now, 314, was my aunt's house. Actually she was my mother's cousin, but she was also my godmother. So when she passed away she willed me her home, so I just moved up the street.

MP: Oh, wow, so Lindsay Street has been your home for quite some time now. So thinking back to that first house, you know just down the street here, do you remember that kitchen in that house? What were your memories of that kitchen?

MP: Full of wonderful smells. (Laughs)

MP: The best kind of kitchen.

KA: Yes, full of wonderful smells. My mom always made sure there was food not just for me and my dad but for anybody who came by.

MP: Really?

KA: Anybody that wanted anything, you know, hungry or just came to visit, always offered, so I have the habit if, if anybody come in, can I offer you something, because that's--

MP: Ingrained.

KA: That's how I was raised. (Laughs) So that kitchen was great. It was... a lot of good food came out of there. A lot of good food. And I learned some cooking there, my mom wasn't an elaborate cook, she just did basic foods, but it was all good.

MP: What were some of your, as a child, do you remember, did you have any favorites? Like, you said there were a lot of smells, so if you knew you had this one particular smell you were already excited about it? Any specifics?

KA: I always liked Thursdays because that was--compared to most people, Thursday was our fish day. Because that's when the fish came in fresh, on Thursday. And so we would go to Cliff's Meat Market and get the fish, and pork chops. So fish and pork chops every Thursday.

MP: Nice, very nice. So, and you were talking about how your mom always had enough food, you know lots of food around for you all and for others who came around. So did that happen a lot? Did you have a lot of guests in your home, and do you feel like that was part of the neighborhood was just having extra food around for whoever may come around?

KA: I think it was part of the neighborhood because not only her but you know most of the neighbors I can remember one lady across the street, Ms. Avery Brewer, she also was a hairstylist, well they call them hairstylists now, but, she was the one that did press and curl hair, in her home, so growing up, after I begged my mom to let me get my hair pressed, I would go across the street to Ms. Avery's, and she would on Saturdays make the best biscuits,  huge homemade biscuits, I mean huge.

MP: Were they really that big?

KA: I mean, they were big. They were, I mean, about the size of your hand.

MP: Wow.

KA: About the size of your hand. And they'd come hot out of the oven, bring them over and so I would grab the molasses and butter and that would be a meal. That would be a meal.

MP: Wow, that sounds so yummy. Nice. So it was just you, you were the only child in the family?

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: So you didn't have to share too much food with other siblings?

KA: No, I didn't. But actually it was interesting because other neighborhood, all the kids, we all hung out together, played together, so we would go to different houses, so a lot would come to my house because being an only child, I got a lot of things too, so [laughs]

MP: They knew.

KA: So a lot of toys, and things like that, so everybody would come to my house, you know, to play, and again that's where the food sharing was. Mom would make Kool Aid, or bring out cookies, or just different things like that, so it was fun.

MP: Nice. So you said you learned a little bit of cooking from her, do you enjoy cooking today, or not that much?

KA: I'm actually getting to enjoy it, at one time there was... I'm learning I have to slow down, because I cook too fast.

MP: Oh, cooking too fast?

KA: Yeah, fast. You know, it's like I want everything done in a hurry, but I'm learning that in order for it to taste good, you need to just take your time with it, and season it just right, and everything. So... but I'm learning. I'm learning to really enjoy cooking. Now that they have more cooking shows on you can learn a lot that way too and go online and google up recipes and different things like that.

MP: It's really hard to have the patience to cook, it takes, just like you said, a lot of time.

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: I know, like grandmother's known for being an amazing cook, I think that's the best kind of love, is like...You know someone's a really good cook and everyone talks about your food, it’s just really good. She doesn't look at any recipes, she just knows what to do. That's kind of my dream is to be able to do that just like, know what goes well, you know, that innate craft.

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: We'll just switch gears a little bit. [6:11] Another thing that we're trying to investigate is restaurants that used to be in the area. So you know maybe back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, there were a lot more restaurants on this part of Franklin and Rosemary, so just trying to remember which ones of those. We know about Bill's Barbecue a lot because of Mama Dip. But we've also heard a little bit about Hollywood Grill, perhaps? But I don't know if you had any places, like did your family every go to any restaurants when you were young? Do you have any memories of those?

KA: Only restaurants I can say Bill's Barbecue. We went there. And I think that was basically... didn't got to Hollywood Grill, that was further down.

MP: Further down, okay.

KA: Like going toward Merritt Mill Road, but that was the only restaurant because mostly everything was cooked at home. Then when the fast foods came out we went... my mom after she got older in years, she would like to go to get a fish sandwich from...I think it was from McDonald's, and get turnip greens from the restaurant out here in Carrboro, the... I forget the name of it, but it only stays open til 2 o'clock, the one across from, right before you get to the Farmer's Market and Carrboro Town Hall...

MP: Oh, that Junction?

KA: Yeah, Country Junction. Yeah, she would like the greens from there. And then ice cream from... the ice cream was from McDonald's too. But then also when Ms. Dip opened up her restaurant, she would every Friday, when my mom wasn't able to cook anymore she would give her her lunch every Friday, so I would just go up and pick up her lunch from Ms. Dip, and she would do that as long as mom was living and able to eat. Which was really a blessing.

MP: That is. It's hard getting older and things that we think are simple get much more difficult. [8:33]

MP: Another thing that we...we spoke to the Smiths a while ago, and obviously, you know, they've been here quite a long time, and one thing they talked about was a lot of...there used to be a lot more farmland around here, so I don't know if you have any memories of...was there any gardens or fields in this...in and around like, what we know as Potter's Field or Northside. Can you remember any particular places where people were growing their own food, or people were still farming?

KA: Mm-hmm, right across the street, my grandmother's house, but the yard behind it, neighbors would plant their vegetables and whatever and then of course everybody would share. At my home, my daddy had a small garden right beside the house. And everybody had, pretty much had a garden.

MP: Everyone had a little something.

KA: Yeah, everyone had a garden, the ones in this big house right here, 323 Lindsey, they had a garden in the back. This right here was a garden, where this house is now, that was a garden. And so it was like a garden almost every other house.

MP: Wow.

KA: Yeah. Where Ms. Velma Perry lives, there was a garden behind her house. So you got fresh vegetables, you got tomatoes, you got string beans, you got okra, collards, cabbage, onions, strawberries, you got just...cucumbers, all different kinds of vegetables.

MP: People were growing all those things.

KA: Mm-hmm. It was great.

MP: Yeah. And when do you feel like you stopped seeing the gardens? When did those sort of start fading away? Do you have any idea?

KA: When the older folks passed away. [laughs] Because we didn't...because the younger ones were working, so they didn't really have the time to put into gardening, and didn't really learn from what was already there, so, I'm just really getting back into trying to take care of the yard, and the flowers and things like that.

MP: Yeah, your garden looks really nice.

KA: Well, thank you. Thank you. Well, my auntie who lived here, she loved flowers, so this was full of everything you see growing up now, that's what she planted years ago. So, but I think that's the reason why most people don't have gardens now is because the younger ones just never took up that habit, of you know, gardening. But I think it's going back to that now.

MP: Yeah, I definitely think so too. I think people like have memories of that. I know for me, with my grandparents growing things and remembering how fresh and good that food it. We should go back to that.

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: It's the best kind of food.

KA: It is.

MP: So when you have, you know, family gatherings, I know you have quite a big family, when you have family gatherings or holidays or something, how do those usually work with the Atwaters? Is it potluck-style, everyone brings something, or is there one go-to person who cooks everything? How does that work in your family?

KA: Nowadays it's like you said potluck, covered dish, everybody brings something. It used to be, when I was growing up, my uncle was a chef for the railroad, and when we'd have family reunions would be over to my grandmother's house, he would do all the cooking.

MP: So, if you pardon my interruption, when you say he was a chef for the railroad, for the people that worked on the railroad, or what was his job?

KA: He was like the—well, it wasn't-- it was like a porter?

MP: Oh, okay.

KA: So, back then, they prepared meals just like they do...like...I don't think they do it anymore but it used to be like when the airlines used to serve food and stuff like that. Railroads used to serve meals to eat.

MP: For the passengers?

KA: Mm-hmm, for the passengers.

MP: Oh, wow.

KA: So he was cooking for the passengers.

MP: Mass-scale cooking.

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: So he would be fine preparing a big family meal, I guess.

KA: Yes, he would. And he did an excellent job. I always loved his food. Especially his barbecue chicken. It was the bomb.

MP: The bomb. (Laughs) So now you say it's more covered dishes. Do you have something that you usually make? Or something that you're asked, always asked, like Oh Ms. Kathy, you have to bring this?

KA: Oh, yeah. I have been given the assignment to bring the candied yams.

MP: Candied yams.

KA: Yeah. My family, like I said, I was adopted, but I do have siblings, and everybody's grown now, so we always get together once a month for, to celebrate birthdays, or holidays, you know, whatever the occasion. And bring a covered dish, so my covered dish is candied yams.

MP: And where did you pick up how to make candied yams? Where does that come from?

KA: Actually my mom did candied yams, and I used to do it her way. But then a friend of mine showed me a different way to make them, and I started doing that way, and that was what everybody like. The other way. It was just a matter of slicing the yams and loading it with butter, sugar...

MP: All the good things in the world.

KA: All that good stuff, stuff that you don't wanna know about but it makes it taste good.

MP: Oh, I wanna know all the details! So what was different about that, this new recipe versus the one that your mom made?

KA: Well, the one mom did, it was just basically cane sugar, white sugar, and butter. And they baked it in the oven, and that was it. And it was good! But this one gives a little bit more flavor because you have not only the cane sugar but the brown sugar, cinnamon, sometimes I use allspice, sometimes I use honey, and vanilla flavoring.

MP: Yum. You're making me want Thanksgiving already!

KA: [laughs] Yeah, that was what it was for, it was Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'd have to do the yams.

MP: Have to do the yams, always. And are there other staples in your family Christmases or family Thanksgivings that other people bring usually?

KA: Yeah, I have a niece that does very good potato salad.

MP: Potato salad.

KA: She does... I have one sister that is an excellent cook, I mean she does well on everything, like chicken and dumplings, baked chicken, friend chicken, greens, cabbage, she does well on everything.

MP: Yeah. That's excellent. And can you think of any one particular memory where you can remember, not necessarily a family gathering, but somewhere either through church or through any other group where there was one meal in particular that you really remember just having a great time, or like the people that it brought together were especially special? Do you have any memories of one particular event where food brought the whole group of people together? If you could think of something.

KA:  Probably at some banquets, some banquets that I went to, church banquets, also some weddings had really some good food too. Yes, really really good food. The weddings that had the four course meal.

MP: Wedding planning is tough because everyone's going to be critiquing your food, you got to make sure it's good.

KA: Mm-hmm, that's true. That's true. But yeah, those types of events, the fun occasions...

MP: Are always fun occasions for getting people together over food. [16:49] Yeah, because I've heard a couple of different restaurants, but it seemed like the only more like black owned restaurant seemed to be Bill's Barbecue back in...and of course Ms. Mama Dip's now. Yeah so we were thinking the Smiths had mentioned one in Durham somewhere, I think on Fayetteville Road in Durham?

KA: Oh, Dillard's. Dillard's Barbecue.

MP: Yeah. So did a lot of people from here, like if they wanted to go out, they would go over there to--

KA: They'd go to Dillard's...and I was trying to think what else... Pan-Pan Restaurant used to be on Hillendale.

MP: Okay.

KA: And it's now, I think, in Northgate Mall. But that was one of those southern restaurants. Really good food.

MP: Really good, classic southern food.

KA: Yeah, classic southern. High in cholesterol, but good.

MP: Sacrifices.

KA: That's right.

MP: So, in your kitchen today, do you cook most evenings, do you cook a couple times a week? Do you, you know, you find yourself...

KA: I usually cook like on Saturday for Sunday and the rest of the week. So, and that's how my mom used to do it. She would do like maybe two or three meats on Sunday, well she cooked all her meals on Sunday, because she said she didn't like doing (      ) right then for Sunday. But we would have like roast-- a pot roast, fried chicken, and ham, and then the vegetables would be like string beans, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, so basically if I'm going to do a big meal like for the holidays and stuff, I normally-- I tend to do just that, like a turkey, ham, then maybe a big chicken, trying to stay away from fried foods...

MP: That's tough, but...

KA: I'm trying to stay away from that, but you know, macaroni and cheese, and greens, yeah.

MP: Well, great. I think that's all. I don't know if you have any other stories that you'd like to share that you can think of.

KA: Only thing... this is not necessarily cooking, but my uncle had, like a general store--

MP: Oh really? What was it called?

KA: Over on Brooks Street. Weaver Store, over on Brooks Street, and they had everything in there, to... I know they had meats and things like that, but at the age I was, I wasn't interested in any meats, I was interested in the candy, the cookies, the sodas, the big huge dill pickles, sour pickles, those big ones. And the cookies were big, baseball cookies. We had ice cream, popsicles, fudge sticks, things like that. So that was always a good treat because we would walk to school and have to walk right by the store.

MP: Had to get something.

KA: Had to get something, had to get something.

MP: And this was the same uncle that worked for the railroad or different uncle?

KA: Different uncle. But they were brothers.

MP: Okay, so that family.

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: Okay. So there's that-- so it was Weaver? What was it called, Weaver?

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: Were there other stores around the neighborhood that were like that?

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: I've heard of a couple of them-- So there was that one, Weaver--

KA: Weaver Street, and then there was another one on Cotton Street. Cotton Street was Mr. Gruley Barbee. He had a little convenience store like... there was... up here on the corner, right as you get into Carrboro, the Mason's store--

MP: The Mason's, I've heard of that one.

KA: And those were the only black-owned ones that I remember.

MP: Yeah, so that's three already, in the neighborhood. That's quite a bit.

KA: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

MP: And you could get pretty much everything you needed at these stores?

KA: Pretty much, pretty much...but probably the main food items we got from Fowler's--

MP: Fowler's?

KA: Fowler's.

MP: Okay.

KA: It was right here on Franklin Street.

MP: That's right, okay.

KA: Where the-- right across from Panera Bread.

MP: Mm-hmm.

KA: Yeah. It was Fowler's and then A&P was right-- two buildings down.

MP: Okay. So those were the main grocery stores, and then you could get other things at the other little stores.

KA: Mm-hmm.

MP: Nice. And Fowler's and A&P were just stores for everyone, right?

KA: Yeah. Those were the main grocery stores.

MP: Main grocery stores in town. And those were around until the ‘80s or so, so maybe earlier than that?

KA: Um...I want to say probably to the late ‘70s?

MP: Okay.

KA: Probably the late ‘70s. If it was the ‘80s it was the early ‘80s.

MP: Okay.

KA: Yeah. But probably more so the late ‘70s. Yeah.

MP: Part of this project, that-- why I ask where certain things were is because we're hoping to make a little bit of a map of where some things used to be, where things like grocery stores, restaurants, or these smaller shops used to be, or where gardens used to be, things like that, hoping to incorporate some of that into the book as well. So any mapping like you just did, is very helpful for when we try to design it.

KA: Okay.

MP: Yeah, that's all the questions that I have today Ms. Atwater. I might call for follow-up.

KA: Okay.




Marian Cheek Jackson Center, “Kathy Atwater,” Marian Cheek Jackson Center Oral History Trust, accessed September 22, 2020, https://archives.jacksoncenter.info/APAT/APAT_0114.

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