Vibrant colored walls, a bayou mural, and a variety of alligator caricatures create a Louisiana theme that only a native could capture. Bead necklaces dangle from the ceiling while scribes written by the owner herself – a form of self-therapy – mark the walls and door. However, the personality of the restaurant comes from the Queen herself. A colorful lady, she shares laughter with visitors, sings along to the radio while cooking, and completes sentences with an endearing term, “baby”. Customers are difficult to distinguish from friends in the laidback atmosphere.
Sit down for a meal and watch her recite the complete menu with the speed and breathlessness of an auctioneer. Once customers make a selection, Nubian Queen declares “I’ll be back, I’m going to work.”
The food is good and delivered in plentiful amounts. The fried shrimp and catfish are covered in seasoning and feature a tempura-like batter. The Cajun sweet tea is unique in and of itself. Since Nubian Queen Lola acts as waitress, head chef, and cashier, the dining experience may prolonged, but ensures that the food and experience is consistent. There are no sous chefs, only help. Absent are sommeliers and finely dressed wait staff, but the greatest virtue of restaurants like this is their raw authenticity. Nubian Queen Lola’s is a reminder of the days of Dot’s Place and Sallie’s Down-Home Cookin’, Austin soul food monuments that represented southern culture and food made with heart.
Absent are sommeliers and finely dressed wait staff, but the greatest virtue of restaurants like this is their raw authenticity.
Inspired by witnessing her mother lose her job due to age discrimination, the Lake Charles native knew at an early age that one day she would have her own restaurant. “As a matter of fact, I was probably 14 or 15 years old, when I realized this,” she recalls. “I didn’t know how I was going to [open a restaurant]. I didn’t know what to do to get it.” Her conviction manifested itself nearly eleven years ago in the form of Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Café. Proud to be one of the longest tenured black-owned soul food restaurants in Austin, she recognizes that “it’s been hard, it’s been rough, it’s been crazy, it’s been ugly, and it’s been tough.” Nonetheless, her words do not sound disparaging, but simply as a reference to the hurdles that she has overcame as a business owner.
These days, the Nubian Queen’s perseverance is driven by her affinity for the homeless community, children in need, and her customers. When not conducting herself as a one-woman show during business hours, the versatile restaurateur can be found serving the public. In her own words, she is feeding well over 350 people in need per day, 7 days a week. If customers arrive to the restaurant during business hours to find the door locked, a note posted on the door informs that she may be volunteering, but her phone number is left to those interested in finding out when she will be returning. On Sundays, the restaurant is not open. This one day allows Nubian Queen Lola to utilize the space behind the cafe to serve those that come with little or without. Prior experiences of being homeless herself appear to allow Nubian Queen Lola to establish a rapport with the impoverished that comes across as relatable and genuine. Portions of the restaurant’s profits are combined with donations to allow her to fulfill her mission.
As for future plans, Nubian Queen Lola will continue to serve those that could use a hot meal. She has complete faith that one day she will be able to open up a large shelter that will strongly impact the community even more than she already has. Whether she establishes this shelter or not, Lola Stephens believes that she has found her true calling, “You’ll find your place…and I found mine. Thank God.”
Visit her website if you are interested in assisting Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Café with feeding the homeless.