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GiGi's Soul Food still cooking years later

A western New York institution has been serving up southern homestyle cooking for more than 50 years. GiGi’s Soul Food remains a mainstay of Buffalo’s East side.

Darryl Harvin has spent most of his life at GiGi’s. His mother, Blondine Harvin, purchased the restaurant in 1960, where he is now one of the managers.

“We’ve been able to be consistent with a good product in a place where people can come, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee, where they have a sense of being and they continue to give us a sense of being,” said Harvin.

Harvin says the restaurant began as a jazz club, but over the years transitioned into a place where no one is ever refused a hot meal.

“In our business, we really started out many years ago being popular for selling hot dogs, and then we started adding on our own different types of recipes based on my grandmother’s [cooking],” said Harvin.

Harvin says the GiGi’s menu includes southern staples like fried chicken, mashed potatoes and collard greens, but turning those standards into “Soul Food” takes a special approach.

“To really kind of generalize it a little more, it’s a comfort food. It’s just prepared a little bit different than other cultures might prepare their food. For example, macaroni and cheese. We still prepare ours the same way: two to three different types of cheeses, a lot of butter, a lot of milk. In terms of some of our meats, we call it smothered, like smothered chicken, smothered chops. It basically means you’re braising them,” said Harvin.

Besides the food, GiGi’s offers a place for people in the community to come and hang out with their family and friends. Over the years, the restaurant has served as a neutral meeting ground for local politicians and some famous faces, as well.

“Food brings everyone together. We’ve had Jesse Jackson, President Clinton, Hilary Clinton, Arthur Eve, and we’ve had a lot of musicians come in, the young hip hop artists,” said Harvin.

Harvin says the most bustling times in GiGi’s history were back in the early 1970s when businesses like Bethlehem Steel were open. Since then, the restaurant has seen boom times and ridden out the challenges as city fortunes declined.

“There were times when were really close to closing down, just because of economic situations that were going on throughout the country,” said Harvin.

Having survived this long, Darryl Harvin says he hopes GiGi’s can continue to serve the community as best they can for years to come.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.