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Restaurant revives the “shoebox lunch,” an African-American tradition from Jim Crow era travel

When you hit the highway for a road trip, you probably don’t think twice about being able to find somewhere to eat when you get hungry.  

But for African-American families heading South during the Jim Crow era, restaurant options were slim to none. So when they had long train or car trips planned, women of the family would pack lunches into old shoeboxes.

The Southfield soul food restaurant Beans and Cornbreadis commemorating that resourceful tradition by offering “shoebox lunches” for customers during Black History Month. Stateside talked to Beans and Cornbread owner Patrick Coleman about how his own family history inspired the idea for bringing back the “shoebox lunch.” 

Coleman says his mother and grandmother would often talk about the excitement of new travel opportunities presented by the automobile and the interstate highway system. 

“But if they got hungry, they couldn’t pull over at a rest stop or a restaurant if they were at, you know, the Mason Dixon line,” explained Coleman. “So what my grandmother used to do when my mom was a small girl, she’d fry some chicken, she’d slice some pound cake and some fruit, and she would take an old shoebox and pack the lunch in it.” 

Listen to the conversation above to hear more about the history of the shoebox lunch, and why Coleman wanted to commemorate this piece of African-American history.   

Stateside's ongoing series Beyond the Coneyhighlights the growers, entrepreneurs, and culinary experts behind Michigan's diverse food economy.

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