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After a fire burned the restaurant’s flag, Nanny’s Soul Food ‘lifted up’ by Topeka community



TOPEKA, Kan. – Shavonn “Nanny” Smith says she cried all day after seeing Wednesday that —  in a situation that might have racial implications — an arsonist had destroyed the advertising banner outside the struggling soul food restaurant she owns in East Topeka.

Smith, who is Black, recalled that an earlier banner outside her small restaurant, Nanny’s Soul Food, had been incinerated the same way.

“I was broken,” she said.

But her fellow Topekans subsequently “came and lifted me up,” Smith said Friday.

“The community has been amazing,” she said. “They’ve been very uplifting, so I am very thankful and truly blessed that there is more good than hate out here, which makes me really, really happy.”

Nanny’s opened in July 2018 at 1000 S.E. 21st, and has since moved to its current site at 2410 S.E. 6th Ave.

“I’ve worked really hard,” Smith said. “I’ve sacrificed. I’ve emptied out my kids’ savings accounts for this business.”

Nanny’s provides “old-fashioned cooking, made from scratch, just like your grandmother would make,” its Facebook page says, adding that its specialties include pies, cakes, fish, gumbo, greens and oxtail, a Jamaican specialty featuring the tail of an ox.

Some other items on the menu include okra, fried jalapeno balls, sweet potatoes, and red beans and rice.

Smith said it’s exhausting for her to operate Nanny’s, where she does the cooking, but that’s what she loves to do.

“It keeps me moving, it keeps me motivated,” she said. “My knees are needing a surgery but you know what? The pain keeps me going, because I love to make people happy through my food.”

‘I will keep pushing. I can’t be broken by this’

Rather than file a police report regarding her burned banner, Smith chose to focus her attention elsewhere. She posted photos of its tattered remains Wednesday on Nanny’s Facebook page.

“When u work so hard and find out the hate is so real,’ she wrote in a statement accompanying those photos. “Just know I’m stronger than u know, I will keep pushing. I can’t be broken by this. God bless whomever did this.”

Facebook users posted more than 160 supportive messages in response.

“Oh this hurt my heart!!” wrote Amanda Garcia Alvarez. “We absolutely love your food as well as how welcoming everyone is! Do not let this stop you! So sorry this happened to you!”

A new design, free replacement, and a GoFundMe to help Smith

Kalos Print Services offered to replace Nanny’s banner free of charge while Sprout Creative offered to design new banners.

The nonprofit group Planting Peace started a GoFundMe campaign aimed at raising money to purchase a “really big order” of Nanny’s food, which would be used to feed the homeless.

Planting Peace will match the first $5,000 contributed, according to that page. As of late Saturday morning, 52 donors had pledged a total of $1,980.

Smith said she’s also seen an influx of new customers, who have praised her restaurant’s food while offering words of encouragement and support.

“They don’t want to see me close,” she said of her customers. “We might have been closing probably within six or seven months. But the community’s not letting me do that, so that makes me happy.”