Where prayer's always on menu

Religion: Soul-food eatery serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and the Lord. Nourished customers sing its praises.

May 10, 1999|By Young Chang | Young Chang,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

At A Taste of Heaven, owner Rod Robinson and his staff do more than cook and serve. His business is more than a restaurant, and his duties reach beyond that of an entrepreneur. In fact, customers call him "The Rev."

He opened the soul-food restaurant at 25th Street and Greenmount Avenue on Friday the 13th last November. Though others might have been wary of opening on that day, God challenged him, Robinson says, and he and his staff opened with a prayer that "God would have his way in the city." Robinson, 33, describes his restaurant as a place where people are fed not only physically, but spiritually.

"I don't think there's a day that goes by that God doesn't save a soul through this place," says customer Donna Williams, a family service coordinator with the Institute of Family Center Services. "There are multitudes of angels in this restaurant, and you don't want to leave."

One customer suggested Robinson change the name of his business to "church," he says. Another drops by every day to share an encouraging word, usually a verse from the Bible. Many walk in to ask for prayer.

"There are a lot of people in this neighborhood who are in despair," says customer Mary Tomlinson, a grandmother of three from Baltimore. "They come in to fill the body with food and spirituality."

Tomlinson experienced this "filling" firsthand. She came in with a friend for lunch about three months ago and met David Smith, a minister and member of the United Pentecostal Church, who was visiting that day. When waitress Donna Yvonne Lucas asked Tomlinson if she wanted Smith to pray over her, Tomlinson accepted.

"I felt the presence of God surround me in that restaurant," she says. "I was out of it for a bit, but I do know that when I came around, I was different. There was a deliverance that day for me."

She found herself speaking in tongues, she says, and healed completely of her arthritic pain.

"See, that was the whole purpose of opening this restaurant," says Robinson. "So people who wouldn't normally encounter God, would. We want to provide hope for somebody, a place where you can find love."

Customers overhear Robinson and his staff having a conversation about God and join in. Some ask what they must do to receive salvation, others say they want what Robinson has.

He remembers a customer who walked in last week after 6: 30 p.m., the restaurant's official closing time. The man, Robinson later learned, was on his way to a bar. The staff was praying and the man, curious as to what the noise was all about, looked into the restaurant window. Then he entered and asked for prayer himself.

"This man was in here crying; he received Jesus Christ into his life," says Robinson. "We weren't servin' no food, but we stayed open for the Lord."

Carl Varn, 53, visits almost every day. When Varn has cash, he pays for his coffee. When he doesn't, Robinson feeds him food and then some.

"Now we don't get rich here," Robinson says, "but souls get changed and we open for whatever God wants us to do. The register doesn't go ting! ting! but where there's love, the enemy can't enter."

The staff works with one thing in mind: to treat people the way God would treat people, says Robinson.

A licensed evangelist, Robinson became a Christian eight years ago. Before opening A Taste of Heaven last fall, he worked as a counselor and mentor for emotionally challenged children.

His staff, which is entirely Christian, came together in a way Robinson himself does not understand. He thinks it was "something God pre-ordained," though. Delbra Smith, 42, a cook at A Taste of Heaven, met Robinson last year outside a Popeye's chicken restaurant. He and several church members were praying for a homeless man asking for food, and when Robinson opened his eyes and looked up, he found that Smith had joined the circle.

Staff members begin each morning with prayer, proceed through the day with prayer and stay late to pray specifically for those needing prayer.

"We determined," says Robinson, "we're gonna let him know, every day, that we're gonna glorify him, because we serve an awesome God."

Pub Date: 5/10/99

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