Local soul food eatery thrives amid pandemic after wave of community support

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On a Saturday in April, Imojae's Soul Food had only brought in $26. Then the eatery discovered a Facebook group

FREDERICK, Md. (WDVM) — It’s Friday morning and Kiiursha Motley is keeping up with phone calls that are quickly adding up to about 40 orders. Sarah Coleman and her fiance, Tony Smith, maneuver around a small kitchen, perfecting the flavor of their food. 

“While the world was closed, we were able to build a community within ourselves,” Coleman says. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed Frederick County businesses in March, Imojae’s Soul Food struggled to keep orders flowing. 

Coleman, founder of the soul food eatery, says that about a month ago, Imojae’s made just $26 in one day. That was barely half the amount needed to cover rent for their kitchen space at Mountain City Lodge in Frederick.  

That day, Coleman’s phone buzzed with a notification about a new Facebook group: Frederick County Take Out. 

“I uploaded about 10 pictures of my food,” Coleman recalls, “I introduced myself, ‘Hi, my name is Sarah Coleman.’ I said if you guys would ever like to try some soul food, check me out. And my phone just went crazy.”

Motley left her previous job and she and Coleman are now fully devoted to the in-demand eatery.

The trio dishes up orders Thursdays through Sundays, often selling out of the rotating soul food menu of corn bread, chicken wings, mac and cheese and more. 

[RELATED: Facebook group connects restaurants to community]

Demand has grown three-fold from the customers that Coleman says have become more like extended family. 

“They care about me, about us. It’s always like ‘Sarah, make sure you’re  getting some rest,’ Coleman said,  “They bake me cheesecakes. It’s just a blessing.”

Coleman not only shares her food, but the story behind Imojae’s. 

That name honors her son, Joshua King. Together, the family would spend hours in the kitchen together, eventually laying the foundation for the business. 

“I wanted to teach him a craft, something he could do, something that no one could ever take away from him. When he first started, Josh couldn’t boil water,” Coleman joked. 

But with further practice, he gained he own sense of flavoring and an idea to share their food with more people.

“I just remember my mom and my brother in the kitchen,” said co-manager and Coleman’s daughter, Kiiursha Motley explained, “My mom would make the plates, Josh would go out to deliver. So Josh was like the driving force behind her. He could sell water to someone who lived in the ocean. He was so good and he had this confidence about him.”

Their venture came to a halt when King was shot and killed in December of 2016 in Montgomery County. 

“I would cook here and there but I just didn’t have the heart to get back in it. I equated the business with Josh, so it was so hard for me to do it,” Coleman explained. 

Nearly three years later and with help from Coleman’s fiance, Tony Smith, Imojae’s Soul Food launched in January of 2019. 

“It’s not just about the money for me. They give me a purpose. I never want to grow so big that I can’t serve [customers] myself,” said Coleman.

When she isn’t cooking meals, Coleman serves as a prisoner’s rights advocate and parole consultant. 
“I advocate for those who have gone [into prison] and turned their lives around, that have a great support system,” said Coleman.

She’s been supporting incarcerated persons for 14  years and has been successful in helping about 20 prisoners reach parole. 

Now to continue the momentum generated from the community during the pandemic, Coleman aims to mobilize their operations with a food truck. 

A GoFundMe page was recently started to help the family purchase a food truck. For more information on the Go Fund Me, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/get-sarah-a-soul-food-truck

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