It’s as if the stars aligned once Nora Tatum decided to open In The Kitchen, Long Beach’s newest soul food restaurant located in the Saint Mary’s neighborhood.
After leaving her career in dentistry behind during the pandemic to pursue a new chapter in her life as a chef, Tatum was soon selling meals made in her own home kitchen to a growing number of customers who would pre-order from her.
“I realized that dentistry was probably not going to be the step for me to continue to take due to what’s going on,” Tatum said. “Then I did some pre-ordering from my house and it went really well.”
Her business expanded exponentially in an extremely short time, evolving from a home-based cottage kitchen to an actual restaurant in only two weeks.
Less than half a month after starting her growing business, Tatum spotted an empty restaurant location on Long Beach Boulevard and 9th Street.
“After those pre-orders, I happened to drive down the street and there was an available restaurant,” Tatum said.
This space became the brick-and-mortar location for In The Kitchen, which celebrated its grand opening on Feb. 12, 2021.
Tatum runs the restaurant alongside her business partner and fiancée, Bruce Newman, who co-owns the business with her.
“It’s kind of funny because it all happened as soon as I thought about it. It happened within two weeks,” Tatum told the Signal Tribune.
In The Kitchen serves soul food, exemplifying Tatum’s intimate and familial relationship to cooking that was handed down to her by her mother. Even though her business is new, she has years of experience cooking for her family and friends.
“I’ve been cooking since I was a child, you know. My family is from the South. That’s what we’ve done. My mom taught us how to cook early on as girls, and I just always had a passion and a love for cooking,” she said.
Tatum is now using In The Kitchen to share that same passion with the greater Long Beach community.
With the pandemic lasting over a year and scores of businesses being forced to close, the opening of In The Kitchen offers a bright spot amid the collective darkness.
“Due to everything we’re going through, you know, everyone overcoming such a tragedy and just being in a situation that I felt the community needed something to bring everyone together,” Tatum said. “It’s working just as I planned. Everyone’s coming in, they’re enjoying the atmosphere, they’re enjoying the food, and it’s a comfort thing. That was why I did it. I felt we needed it and it was the perfect time.”
Tatum moved from her family’s native Dallas, Texas to Long Beach two and a half years ago to help care for her ex-husband after he suffered a massive stroke. Despite the pain and struggle surrounding this, their family has continued to thrive, with Tatum now being the second Long Beach business owner in the family.
“The funny thing is my daughter has a business on 9th and Atlantic, so it just worked out really well for us,” Tatum told the Signal Tribune.
Less than half a mile away is The Salt Lounge, owned by Tatum’s daughter Tanai Holder, which offers various services for physical and spiritual care and wellness.
“She’s actually a huge part of the community as well,” Tatum said of Holder.
Successful entrepreneurship seems to run in the family, as In The Kitchen has been busy filling orders ever since it opened.
“Things are going well with everyone just supporting us as a Black-owned business,” Tatum said, “and I’m very proud of that.”
According to Tatum, her two personal favorites on the menu, fried catfish and oxtails, have turned out to be the most popular with customers as well.
It’s easy to see why, the oxtails are juicy and so tender they fall off the bone as soon as a fork makes contact. Each section of meat contains a proportionate amount of lean meat for a substantive bite and fat that soaks up and holds the flavor.
Oxtails are available in a dinner special while the golden breaded fried catfish comes in both a dinner special, which includes cornbread and two sides, as well as a lunch special, which includes fries.
The unique Chik n Mac side looks like run of the mill macaroni and cheese at first glance, but when a forkful is pulled away, finely shredded chicken soaked in the same gooey cheese as the pasta can be seen dangling from each bite.
In The Kitchen’s savory garlic mashed potatoes are perfectly balanced between creamy, salty and garlicky, each helping the other flavors rather than overpowering them. Small pieces of potato peel have intentionally been left to enhance the texture.
Other dishes include fried chicken and cheeseburger lunch specials, and a fried or smothered chicken dinner special. Those looking to avoid meat can order the veggie platter, which consists of four sides and cornbread.
In The Kitchen is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. and is located at 900 Long Beach Blvd.