Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to live out their lifetime dream, but Theresa Barnes gets to do just that. From the time she was a young girl playing chef while watching her family cook, Theresa knew she wanted to own a restaurant. It seemed like an impossible goal, but she never stopped chasing it. The path was a rocky one filled with many detours, but in January 2019 her dream became reality when Eden Spice opened.
Theresa has spent most of her life in the United States, emigrating from Sierra Leone, in west Africa in 1991 with her large, close-knit family. She first joined her family in Philadelphia, who encouraged her to find success with a career in the medical field. Theresa tried to put her passion for cooking on the back burner to pursue an education in nursing since that seemed more secure.
Shortly after, her boyfriend was able to join her in the United States, and they moved to Columbus to be closer to his family. They got married, started a family, and then relocated to Dayton, where her family rejoined her. Once again, she tried to continue her education in the medical field, but her heart just wasn’t in it.
The calling to be in the kitchen was undeniable. “I tried to ignore it, but it just wasn’t going anywhere. It was just in my head.”, she explains. She recounts a time when she attended a loved one’s wedding and found herself in the kitchen helping with food preparation. Everywhere she went she volunteered to cook for people. “Wherever I worked, every time we had a potluck, I would volunteer, I would bring 3 or 4 different dishes.”
Theresa decided she would continue working to help provide for her family while pursuing cooking on the side. Getting some outside opinions of her food was the next step. One day, she cooked two different African inspired dishes and bravely went to various businesses and asked if they would like lunch. The meals were very well received, so she began to bring meals to new places weekly.
Theresa then received a phone call that would change the course of her future, setting things in motion leading to her dream come true. Her cousin provided the food for Horizon Science Academy in Columbus and had been asked to pick up the Dayton and Cincinnati branches. The first person she thought of was Theresa, telling her “If you help me with this, I’ll help you with a restaurant.” Theresa jumped on the opportunity and excelled. In time, her cousin made good on her promise and helped her find the perfect spot to open her restaurant. Theresa felt so grateful for her cousin who believed in her, “Somebody finally listened.”
Located on East Dixie drive in West Carrollton, in what used to be a Subway, Eden Spice was born. “Everything I prayed for from childhood until this point, it came true”. The work was just beginning, and there were many challenges ahead of her, but she knew “You have to work hard to get somewhere…You have to put everything on the table. It’s a big risk.”
Since she had been ready for this day her entire life, she used to think opening the restaurant would be the most difficult part but running it would be much simpler. She laughs as she tells me how mistaken she was on that account. Maintaining a restaurant has been a journey with many surprises, but you won’t find Theresa complaining about any of it. “I have the privilege of living my dream, so I’m ready for any challenge.”
Eden Spice quickly became a family business, with her daughters in the front, while she is in the kitchen. She affectionately calls her daughter the CEO. However, balancing family life while starting a restaurant has been trying. Theresa gives much credit to her family for supporting her and sacrificing much of their time to help at the restaurant and make her dream a reality.
Her family has always played a crucial role in her life. In fact, her inspiration to become a chef can be traced back to her family, “Basically everyone in my family are cooks.” Theresa has many memories of watching her Grandmother, Mother, and Aunties in the kitchen. She brings much of that tradition to her food, and particularly to one specific dish on her menu called “Grandma Tenneh Papaya Stew”. She recalls how this was a dish that her Grandmother would make for her on special occasions. In time, the recipe was passed down to her so she can pass it down to her children. It is a dish that is filled with love and sentiment. She chose to add this cherished family recipe to her menu to show her customers how she feels about them, stating, “This is the place we want you to come and feel like our family. This is home.”
As much as she loves cooking, it has taken some trial and error to figure out how to cater to the American market. Sometimes people are intimidated to try foods that seem foreign to their palate. Eden Spice serves food that blends the flavors of Africa, the Caribbean and America. As you can expect from the name, the food is flavorful and spiced with many seasonings from thyme and garlic, to secret family spice blends. In addition to a well-seasoned meal, you can count on a meal made from scratch, “I want everyone to know that everything is fresh. Nothing processed.” She explains.
After just over a year of being opened, Theresa has learned a lot about being a restaurant owner. On the hard days, she calls her father for comfort, and he reminds her “Most people die with their dream, but you have a chance to fulfill yours. You have lived a complete life just because of this.” She says this always reminds her to be grateful for the entire experience, good and bad. “Eden Spice is my gift from God. Nothing in my background tells me I could be a restaurant owner,” she tearfully shares, “But I am…. Don’t give up on your dreams.”