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Meet Cheryl Smith: Owner of Cheryl's Global Soul, A Home Away From Home

Naomi Banks | 29 April, 2024

            Meet Cheryl Smith: Owner of Cheryl's Global Soul, A Home Away From Home

Cheryl Smith, owner of Cheryl's Global Soul since its opening in 2006, shares her journey and vision for the restaurant. Offering a fusion of world flavors and local ingredients, Cheryl's aims to provide comfort foods that satisfy the soul. Smith's passion for cooking and entertaining led to the establishment's creation, driven by her desire to highlight Brooklyn’s vibrant art scene by integrating local artists into the space. As a small business, Cheryl's exemplifies resilience and dedication, serving as a cornerstone of its Brooklyn neighborhood. With a focus on consistency and community, Cheryl's fosters an atmosphere where strangers become friends over good food and conversation, the driving force behind the restaurant's success.

Her responses have been edited for length and clarity. Prints of John Donohue’s pen-and-ink drawing of Cheryl’s Global Soul can be found here. Check out a clip of the interview on Instagram and TikTok by clicking the hyperlinks.

I am a big fan of Cheryl’s Global Soul, so it’s an honor to sit down and chat with you. The restaurant has a very “if you know, you know” presence. So for the people who don’t know, what do you offer here?

Smith: What we offer here at Cheryl’s is great food, a comfortable, easygoing atmosphere, and a generous staff. The food is, as the name says, Cheryl's Global Soul. It's world flavors and local ingredients – food that feeds the soul. It's about giving people variety, but within this realm of creating comfort foods.

The reason Cheryl's is here is because I started cooking when I left home. I was missing my mother's food. I'm from Jamaica, originally. My mom, she just passed, but she was an amazing cook. When I left home, I was having to buy meals and I wasn't satisfied. That's when I decided that I need to learn to cook.

Through that process of learning to cook, loving to entertain, and doing these house parties that just kept growing, I actually ended up starting a business from my own place; a catering business. I realized how much I love the whole communal aspect, how I love feeding people, and having people on the same page about just having a good time.

What type of foods do you like?

SmithMy favorite items are literally everything on the menu. I put a menu together that had a bunch of my favorite things on it and synthesized it from different cuisines because “Global Soul” is just that. It's taking different ethnic influences and putting it together in a way that everyone can enjoy in one restaurant.

As for favorites, I'm torn between the solid burger that we do because I feel like every local spot should have a great burger. But I'd have to say the dish I most often order is Sake Glazed Salmon, which is basically a deconstructed sushi roll. It is a perfectly seared, marinated piece of salmon that is served over jasmine rice and seaweed. It was a recipe I came up with from working at a sushi restaurant in Manhattan.

At home, I love cooking breakfast because I like to host brunches. When I do brunch, I'm usually inviting like six people. It's the first meal of the day, although it's the middle of the day.

Being a small business is tough, but being a small business in NYC is even tougher. How do you keep people coming back for more?

SmithThe way we keep people coming back for more is by simply doing good food. I'm not trying to retool the wheel. I'm just trying to do solid food in a great atmosphere and I think that is what people really need — consistency. So, we don't stray far from what my original mission is.

My original and continuing mission is to have a space where people feel comfortable, where the food is satisfying, and where they can commune with people around them. Conversations start-up all the time in here, with strangers coming in as strangers and leaving as friends.

What do you hope people feel after dining at Cheryl’s Global Soul?

SmithThere's always conversation when people sit down, then the food comes, and all of a sudden, it's quiet. They're just enjoying it. I love to see people sit back and rub their tummy like, “Ohh that was so good,” which means that we've done what we were supposed to. Then the conversations and laughter that comes from having been satisfied in that way because it is one of those ways that people find comfort.

Can you share a story from the early days of opening your doors?

SmithWell, this place was a gut renovation. When we were very new and building the place out, I realized it looks a little too slick. A lot of the neighbors that have been here for a long time were like, “Oh, what is this chi-chi place coming in?” I would be outside with muffins and scones in hand, talking to neighbors like, “Hey, come on in and try my place.” Then, I realized we needed something extra.

So, I put up the elephant that's in the room – the elephant painting. Every time kids walked past, they'd be like, “Oh, Dumbo!” They'd actually drag their parents in. And then they'd see that it's just a cozy little place. It's a place for everyone. It was a way of taking the neighborhood in hand and saying, “This is for you. Please come in.”

How big is your staff?

Smith: There have been ups and downs in circumstances over the years, but when we started, there were six people. I was cooking on the line, coming in the morning, opening up the gate, firing up the stoves, starting the coffee, then staff would walk in. Over the years, it has fluctuated between six to 18 people, depending on the season.

Marcos Luis is my most senior employee and then there's Mood and Will on the line. People usually stay here for a long time until they move on to something that they really desire – something that they've been working towards. I've been very fortunate to have great people over the years. While they were with me, they gave me a lot of love and helped grow my business. I miss the ones that have gone and I'm always glad for new people that come through.

How does your staff create a unique dining experience?

Smith: I have to say my staff has been very good at working within my original mission of being that cozy cafe around the way; being accessible and kind.

I've had some amazing people, like Carolyn Hill, who worked with me for many years. She was the Southern heart and soul. She's from New Orleans, greeted people, and made people feel so comfortable, much like Marcos. Having good people who recognize regulars, but also know how to get people in that comfortable place where we want them to be when they sit down is key.

Can you tell me about your initiatives to integrate the space with local artists?

Smith: We get local artists to decorate our space. One of the things that I've always wanted to do was to be able to have local artists come through and highlight their work. We are near a cultural center of Brooklyn – the museum, the garden, and the library. I'm an artist too, so I've always encouraged other artists. I even sing here a couple of nights a week. I try to get artists in here because it's what makes this place feel that much more special.

We were doing it five days a week before winter. Now we're back to three nights a week and it's gonna become more. I'm also looking to extend our evening hours to have spoken word and things like that through the summer, since our front door is wide open.

We are entrenched in this marvelous community. New York is where I want to be because I felt that this is where all the creative people are. I feel like it's my duty to share that wealth of artistry.


This restaurant is located in a cultural hub of Brooklyn, right by Grand Army Plaza. How has that helped with business?

Smith: The fact that there is so much programming coming from the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and the Brooklyn Central Library has helped us. Normally, it would be very quiet in November and December, but the Jay Z show at the library brought in a lot of new people that would never discover this without that. That was a boon for us. Now we've got the show at the library with Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys donating their art. That's actually one of the reasons I chose this spot. It is so close to what I consider to be the cultural center of Brooklyn with the art, the gardens, and Prospect Park.

Cheryl’s Global Soul is located at 236 Underhill Avenue in Brooklyn, NY 11238 and is currently open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (347) 529-2855.

Click photo for more information on the signed print of Librae Bakery for BCS.