Spoonbread is now one of the hottest caterers in New York, with celebrity clients that include Bill Cosby and Hillary Clinton. It handles more than 400 events annually and has a collaborative agreement for the catering functions at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, part of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Together with its two restaurants, Miss Mamie’s and Miss Maude’s, Spoonbread generates north of $3 million in sales. Darden has an unfinished cookbook on the shelf and is scouting locations for a third New York restaurant. When asked if she’d like to expand beyond New York, she whispered, “Yes, but I don’t know how.” Then she smiles to herself and says, “But that’s never stopped me in the past.”
Barbara Smith: The One-Woman Brand, B. Smith Enterprises. Smith, 57, always loved fashion. She tried out for Ebony Fashion Fair three times in her native Pennsylvania before getting hired. Her perseverance paid off, and she soon moved to New York and enjoyed a career as an international runway, print, and commercial model. In 1976, she became the first black woman to grace the cover of Mademoiselle.
Unlike most models, who retire by the age of 30, Smith continued working. But she knew that she also wanted to pursue her other childhood passion: food. Smith learned the restaurant business by night while modeling by day. “I asked a friend if I could work in his restaurant before opening day, because I really wanted to see how it all came together,” she says.
Smith persuaded a restaurant group to partner with her on her own place, found a location, and began renovations. There were naysayers who didn’t believe she was the brains behind the operation. “Everybody kept saying it was a white-owned restaurant and I was just fronting, because models aren’t smart and they couldn’t possibly conceive of it and do it themselves,” Smith says.
Her first restaurant, B. Smith’s, opened in New York City in 1986. She opened a second location in Washington, D.C., with her partners in 1994, before buying them out in 1996. After failing to agree on a price to take over the lease for the New York City restaurant, Smith relocated a few blocks away in 2000. In the meantime, she had opened a third restaurant, B. Smith’s Long Wharf at Bay Street, in upscale Sag Harbor, New York.
Although Smith didn’t set out to create a lifestyle brand, that’s exactly what she did. Her multimedia empire includes two books, B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends (Artisan; $18.95) and B. Smith: Rituals & Celebrations (Random House; $35); her television show, B. Smith With Style, seen daily on TV One; B. Smart Tips for a Better Life, which air on WBLS, a New York radio station; a column in Soap Opera Digest; and two Websites, BSmith.com and BSmithWithStyle.com.
In 2000, Smith even launched a magazine, B. Smith Style. “We were with American Express Publishing, and they were managed