The Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays usually are gravy for chef Wendy Puckett, of Wendy’s House of Soul, the small bistro and caterer on W. Broadway Avenue on the North Side.
However, House of Soul closed for two weeks after Puckett, a community stalwart, was shot in the face with a pellet gun by an assailant in a four-door vehicle as she left work about 9 p.m. on Nov. 22.
Puckett required surgery to remove a pellet lodged near her eye.
Moreover, her business partner, Nature, who is also a chef, at the same time was undergoing hernia surgery and recuperation.
Puckett fell into her van after she was shot and called 911. She required facial surgery and days of recovery. It was also a traumatic experience for a woman known for her kindness and hospitality.
House of Soul was closed for a full two weeks.
Police said Puckett was one of several shot, believed by the same rotters, in northeast, Brooklyn Center and elsewhere that evening.
The good news: Puckett and her sister, Heather Warfield, who runs business operations and catering at House of Soul, were overwhelmed by well-wishers and customers.
They prayed for Puckett, made donations and placed orders as soon as House of Soul reopened inside of K’s Grocery at 1021 W. Broadway.
“The response was overwhelming,” a grateful, still-healing Puckett said. “I met people I’d never known. And friends called me I hadn’t seen in years.
“A lot of people came to say hi and put a prayer in the air. And we had a lot of catering orders placed that were put off at Thanksgiving. Some of them ordered again in December. People shoveled our walk. We just prayed and got back to working as a team.”
The chef at the Women’s Club of Minneapolis helped restart the operation and stayed, happily, for the unenviable job of cleaning the stove. She also brought donations from other women at the club.
Friends and customers contributed about $5,000, which helped cover payroll for the staff of three and up to five who work part time in catering, as well as other expenses that don’t go away during a closing. Staff at Bar Brava several blocks away on N. Washington and Soul Bowl in North Loop donated tips and other funds.
“They covered us,’’ said Warfield of five-year-old House of Soul. “Generally, these are the best weeks for our business. We do a lot of pies and cakes and other orders. There was lost revenue that wasn’t made up. But we’re OK. We always end up OK.
“Business was up by about 10 percent in December. We got catering orders from Wells Fargo and the city and other customers.”
Pam McCurdy, a marketer who is Wendy’s friend and social-media expert, kept people apprised through Facebook postings.
Puckett, 48, has worked as a bartender and chef for 30 years. She is positive. And tough. She was thrown and upset by this attack. And sad. But not diminished. Her faith in the goodness of neighbors and the kindness of strangers helped heal her.
“People have been amazing,” Warfield said. “I know we’ve gained customers.”
These also are resilient entrepreneurs and workers who make amazing food on a hardscrabble Broadway that has added eateries, and refurbished storefronts, including arts, Anytime Fitness, and a remodeled Cookie Cart in recent years.
Wendy’s House of Soul serves several stripes of meaty, vegetable-laden and fish Soul Rolls. Then there’s Soulwiches, including the Broadway Special of gravy-smothered chicken over rice; the Polar Special and more.
Most of the filling meals set you back only $5 to $10.
The owners of this North Side business are thinking about expansion.
House of Soul just received the Business Rock of the Northside award at the annual Toast to North Side Business Awards of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition and Northside Economic Opportunity Network. It was voted so by its peers.
Northsider Sammy McDowell of Sammy’s Avenue Eatery on Broadway and on NE. Central Avenue got the Paper Maker award for his “community-centered cafe.”
Anissa Keyes, another North Side native, psychologist and recent SBA Minority Business of the Year winner, also was recognized for the growth of her Arubah Emotional Health Services with the Women in Business Award.
It’s been my honor to spend a bit of time with these and other small-business owners along Broadway and elsewhere in recent years. They are visionaries, multi-taskers, crime fighters and community pillars.
“Wendy is unbelievable,” Warfield said. “And we are bouncing back.”
Good health and a prosperous 2020 to Wendy Puckett and the crew at House of Soul.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at email@example.com.