CHARLOTTE – E.R.D’s Eatery owner Cynthia Davenport, hates the word “customer.”
“It’s just so impersonal,” she said. “Around here we prefer to use the term ‘custofam’ because by the time you leave here, you’ll feel like family.”
In fact, the entire restaurant is built on family; Davenport’s children work there, and it is named after her mother (the E.R.D. stands for Emma Ruth Davenport). And even the food is family, culled from years of actual relatives’ recipes.
Davenport grew up in the restaurant business. Her mother owned and operated a small soul food restaurant in Santa Ana, Calif., called Emma’s Place. Davenport worked alongside her learning how to greet customers and cook the family recipes.
“This was a really small place,” Davenport said. “And we would have lines around the block because people really didn’t mind waiting for her delicious food.”
Davenport moved to Charlotte in 2006 for a fresh start, and her mother died from breast cancer in 2007.
“I knew I had big shoes to fill by opening up a restaurant in her name,” Davenport said. “But because she’s here in spirit, it feels like we’re doing things right.”
Davenport cooks California soul food, meaning that she doesn’t use pork products or table salt, and tries to make entrees as clean as possible by using clarified butter, for example.
But this doesn’t mean that the food is lacking zing.
“Oh, don’t worry, we still have that same flavor punch,” she said.
The menu offers items, including fried or baked chicken, fried catfish or whiting, fried shrimp and veggie plates.
Plus, there are fish sandwiches and po’boys. The sides change daily but often consist of candied yams, macaroni and cheese, butter beans, coleslaw and more.
The homemade cornbread is deliciously sweet with just the right amount of crumble, and the baked chicken manages to be tasty and tender, falling off the bone. The cabbage is also a must-try with the perfect cook and lovely flavor. Everything is made in-house, so once the sides are gone, then they are taken off the menu for the day. Customers often call to ask about the sides, and Davenport is happy to set some aside for a later order.
Davenport also loves her autonomy with specials.
“This week I woke up and wanted roast beef sliders with mashed potatoes,” she said. “So I made them as the special, and they sold out. I like to cook what I like to eat.”
Sundays are by far the busiest day of the week at the restaurant.
They often sell out of oxtails before even opening due to call ahead orders.
“New customers get confused about how we are sold out at 11 a.m. when we open,” Davenport laughed. “The oxtails just go so fast!”
Patrons can find daily specials on the restaurant’s Instagram account, which is updated regularly. All desserts, including banana pudding, lemon cake and peach cobbler, are also all made in-house.
E.R.D’s Eatery also operates a bustling catering business and a food truck. Staff have catered corporate lunches, family reunions and weddings. There is not a set catering menu; the customer controls the food choices.
“I can do more traditional soul food items or can do lasagna or tacos,” Davenport said.
E.R.D’s really does make people feel like “custofams,” even after just one visit. This is testament to Davenport’s love of food and cooking for others.
“Anything you cook with love and from your heart is soul food,” she said.
And that is true of every item she makes.