From the daughter of a sharecropper in Boley, Oklahoma to Nobel Prize in the culinary world, Florence Jones Kemp, owner of Restaurant Florence in northeast Oklahoma City shared her recipe for success with our own Caryn Ross. And it’s not what you expect.
At 91, Kemp still runs her kitchen with the same fire she attributes to her 70-year success story.
“I’ve always been mean,” she said.
We’ll call it the “courage” that led a single 20-year-old black woman in 1952 to open her own business.
“He didn’t have a name. It was Florence, it was just Florence,” Jones Kemp told our Caryn Ross.
The restaurant started on 4th Street off Deep Deuce: a one-room, one-table cafe.
“That first day, they just walked in and started eating,” Jones Kemp said. “When they tasted that fried chicken I cooked, they kept coming.”
She worked from 6 a.m. to midnight every night. Working so hard, she didn’t even notice the changes and civil unrest happening outside her kitchen. His only clue was a change in his clientele.
“Mainly when I moved to this place, I started to have more diverse people,” Jones Kemp said. “I have all kinds now, and I love it.”
It moved to its current location on 23rd Street in 1969.
“When I moved to this place, I was hoping and praying that my clients would come with 4th Street. And the first day, they didn’t,” Jones Kemp said. “But that second (day ), they came, and I had no furniture for them to sit in. And I think that was the best day. Then I knew I could do it.
Jones Kemp is left to fend for herself after her husband, who is also the father of her daughter, decides to move to California.
“He didn’t have what I had,” Jones Kemp said. “He just had a little joint job. I was a business owner. We were buying our own house. I couldn’t make her understand that this was where we should be.
These days a table is hard to find. Jones Kemp owns most of the block.
His restaurant has won numerous awards and received national attention. Musicians Kanye West and Toby Keith as well as actor Danny Glover all visited.
Jones Kemp and his restaurant were featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show.
“I was, I was when I got that one,” Kemp laughs.
Last month, she accepted the James Beard Award.
“I walked across the stage looking cute,” the chef explains.
“Guy Fieri, not all Food Network stars have ever won the James Beard award. Only a few have been nominated, but none have ever won the award than this little girl of a sharecropper, who is didn’t go to chef school, opened a restaurant in the all-black neighborhood of Oklahoma City. And you’re 91 now, and you’ve won the Nobel Prize in the world of food,” Caryn Ross told her.
“You know I never thought of it like that until you said it earlier,” Kemp replied. “I am something now. Before, I was nothing.”
She’s always been something, and so is her food.
Ross said she was grateful for letting her try it out and sharing her recipe for success.