Lingering on the Palate: Southern Dining Room (1938 - 1980s)

Hettie Gross, who was given the title “Soul Food Queen,” was the artist behind the soul food at the Southern Dining Room.

In the age of racial segregation and discrimination that kept Washington, DC’s “fine restaurants” out of reach for African American Washingtonians, a wide range of eateries, such as informal cafeterias and full-service commercial restaurants, filled a gap and played an important role in the DC restaurant scene. 

Opened in 1938 by owner Hettie T. Gross (1908 - 1968), the Southern Dining Room offered 15 types of affordable, home-cooked dishes based on family recipes. Moving locations from 1707 7th Street NW to a block south at 1616 7th Street NW in 1952, the restaurant would be known in the 1960s as the “nations first and most popular food cafeteria.” 

Gross, working with her husband, would become known as the “Soul Food Queen,” and described soul food to the Washington Post Times Herald as “food that will hold your body up.” Offerings consisted of “chitterlings, pigs feet, ham hocks, chicken dumplings, collard greens, cornbread, sweet potato pie and bread pudding.” The restaurant served up recipes from Gross’s home, as she learned how to cook in Alabama from her mother and would “hang around at odd comments during the day or at night, experimenting with recipes - those she had known all her life, or those she found on food packages until she got what she wanted.”

The Southern Dining room served comforting soul food to “construction workers in their hard hats, Howard medical students in their white jackets, school children, salesgirls, teachers, and just plain hungry people.” After Gross passed away, the restaurant was taken over by Gross’s two daughters who continued to operate the restaurant into the 1980s, when it eventually closed.

This is a stop on the Lingering on the Palate: the Ghosts of the DC Food Scene Tour



1616 7th Street NW