From the daughter of a farmer in Polly, Oklahoma, to winning the culinary world’s Nobel Prize, Florence Jones Kemp, owner of Florence’s restaurant in northeastern Oklahoma City, shared her recipe for success with Karen Ross. This is not what you expect.
At 91 years old, Kemp still runs her kitchen with the same fire she credits her 70-year success story.
“I was always mean,” she said.
We’ll call it “the guts” that led a 20-year-old single black woman to open her own business in 1952.
“She didn’t have a name,” Jones Kemp told Karen Ross.
The restaurant started on 4th Street on the edge of Deep Deuce: one room and one table café.
“On that first day, they just came in and started eating,” Jones Kemp said. “When they tasted that fried chicken I cook, they just kept coming.”
She worked from 6 in the morning until midnight every night. She worked so much, that she did not even notice the changes and civil unrest that were taking place outside her kitchen. The only clue to her was the change in her clients.
“Essentially, when I moved to this site, I started to attract more and more diverse people,” said Jones Kemp. “I have all kinds now, and I love it.”
It moved to its current location at 23rd Street in 1969.
“When I moved to this location, I was hoping and praying that my clients would come to 4th Street. On day one, they didn’t,” Jones Kemp said. “But on (day) the second, they came, and I had no furniture to sit on. I think this was the best day. Then I knew I could make it happen.”
Jones Kemp had to do it on her own after her husband, who is also the father of her daughter, decided to move to California.
“He didn’t have what I had,” Jones Kemp said. “He only had a small job in common. I owned a business. We were buying our own house. I couldn’t make him see that was where we should be.”
Nowadays, it is difficult to get a table. Jones Kemp owns most of the mass.
Her restaurant has won numerous awards and garnered national attention. Musicians Kanye West and Toby Keith and actor Danny Glover visited.
Jones Kemp and her restaurant appeared on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins and Daves” show.
“I was, I was when I got that,” laughs Kemp.
Last month, she accepted the James Beard Award.
“I just walked by onstage looking cute,” says the chef.
“Jay Fieri, All Food Network’s stars have never won a James Beard Award. Only a few have been nominated, but none have won the award this little girl from Sharp Farms, who never went to chef school, opened a restaurant in the all-black neighborhood of… Oklahoma City. She’s 91 now, and she’s won a Nobel Prize in the food world,” Karen Ross tells her.
“You know I never thought of it that way until I just said it,” replied Kemp. “I am nothing now. I used to be nothing.”
She’s always been a thing, and her food is.
Ross said she was grateful she allowed her to try it out and share her recipe for success.