By Edward Henderson
On Friday, October 6th, Sister Pee Wee’s Soul Food, a staple of the Southeast community for 63 years, closed its doors for good. Barbara ‘Sister Pee Wee’ Harris, 84, was cautioned on her high blood pressure’s threat to heart attack or stroke during a recent doctors visit. This information, along with the general fatigue of running the space for so long prompted the decision to let the business go.
“Grandmother was beyond tired, said Sister Pee Wee’s Grandson Christopher Caswell Jr. “She’s always adhered to her calling to help someone else. When someone would come in and not have money, she’d let them come in and eat. A lot of people from the avenue held on to that today. When they found out the restaurant was closing you could see the look change on their face. They would start reminiscing about what Sister Pee Wee meant to them. She was their family, their mother in the neighborhood when their mothers weren’t there.”
Caswell and his mother ran the restaurant for the last three months while Sister Pee Wee was resting.
Sister Pee Wee came to California from Arkansas. She moved to San Diego to be with her husband who played organ at the Israelite Church of God and Christ right up the street from where the restaurant would eventually be located. Sister Pee Wee used to cook for the church and one day her son saw a ‘for rent’ sign in the window of the space. Sister Pee Wee inquired about the smaller space and opened doors to the community to serve southern style cuisine.
“It was a place where you could get a plate of hot food, sit down, eat, feel like you were at home and have some good conversation to go along with it,” said Caswell.
Since birth, Caswell has been in the restaurant. He began pouring coffee for tips at the age of 5.
“When I was a kid in the restaurant I was so excited to start serving at the café. I would see everyone else get a lot of money, so I started serving coffee. I couldn’t even see over the counter, but I could see the tips when they came.”
Caswell hopes to re-open Sister Pee Wee’s one day in a different location. For now, he’s focused on taking care of his Grandmother and honoring her legacy in every way he can. On October 28th, the family will host a celebration for her with the same food and great conversation that echoed off the walls of Sister Pee Wee’s Soul Food for so long.
“The legacy of Sister Pee Wee’s will always be that she always helped somebody in need. She probably didn’t have it, but she would borrow it to get something to a person in need. She’s an angel.”