Twelve years ago, Lola Stephens-Bell opened Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Café at Rosewood and Chicon. I visited during lunchtime on a Friday and watched as the family-style seating filled up.
Lola’s husband and a volunteer named Ellie helped to take care of the growing crowd while I spoke with Lola about her life and her mission to feed the hungry in Austin.
Where Beads Hang From the Ceiling
In 1980, Lola stopped in Austin on the way to Hollywood to “become a superstar.” She didn’t necessarily know what kind of superstar she wanted to be, as she was only driven by the idea of buying her mother a dream house.
Her stop in Austin was extended, so she could help her sister take care of her children. Soon, Lola started working as a cashier and decided to become an Austinite. After losing her job, she became homeless and panhandled until she scraped up enough money to rent a space to start a restaurant.
Lola learned how to cook from watching her mother work in the kitchen, where she sat on a rice sack to observe. She still makes many of the same dishes she watched her mother prepare. Since she grew up in a family of 16, she also learned how to cook in bulk.
“The Food Never Stops”
On Sundays, Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Café closes to feed the homeless. This isn’t the only way Lola reaches out to the community. Sundays through Wednesdays, Lola, alongside volunteers, drives buses loaded with home-cooked meals to deliver to the hungry.
In the future, she hopes to have four buses running. The first will serve the east side, the second will travel to the Manor/Bastrop/Elgin area, the third will head to South Austin and the forth will assist terminally-ill patients who need to get to medical care.
Lola is still looking for the forth bus, which needs to have comfortable seating. Her plans are ambitious, but desperately needed to get food and help to those who don’t have the security of knowing where their next good meal is coming from.
Last month, Tyson Foods awarded Lola with a brand new bus, complete with big containers to keep food warm during delivery. Lola describes it as an “outstanding and wonderful blessing. They’ve embraced me and loved me and let me know I’m important.” She’s not even entirely sure how Tyson Foods discovered her and knew exactly what she needed, but she often relates fortunate happenings to her faith.
Chase, Excel and Treat Others with Kindness
Lola’s relationship with God is extremely important to her, and she hopes leaders in Austin’s community find a similar morality to gain insight into how to approach the issue of homelessness in Austin.
“When you’re feeding the homeless, the hungry, the children, you need to put yourself on the side. We have to get ourselves out of the way.” Lola wishes everyone could find it in themselves to not “stand on the side and look down” upon those who need help, as we have all needed help at some point and might need it again one day.
She hopes Austinites can work to “set an example to the rest of the world” to change perspective and help combat hunger by looking at everyone as a singular person.
“They are all individually homeless. Some want to excel, and some want to decrease, and some want to stand still. Those who want to excel–chase them. Those who want to decrease–help them. Those who want to want to stay still–give to them. And that’s what we have to do.”
Queen Lola’s Dreams in Austin
Lola is happy she never made it to Hollywood. “Austin is for dreamers. It’s for those who are serious for their dream to come true. No harm has come my way yet. The people here are great. Even the robbers who came in were nice!”
Her generosity has no boundaries, as Lola even has kind words for the three men who attempted to rob her one afternoon. After they saw she wouldn’t easily give up the small amount of cash she had, they claimed they were just “seeing if she could handle the neighborhood” and laughed off their own intentions. Lola cites her training as an officer in prison as helping her stand her ground and hold power in tough situations.
The attempted robbers had one additional request. They told Lola she needed to add “Nubian” to her restaurant’s name to highlight her strength, beauty and perseverance. A sign clearly isn’t necessary to notice all of these attributes in Austin’s Queen Lola.
Lola Stephens-Bell is a powerful force by herself, but she always needs more volunteers and bus drivers. If you’re interested in getting involved, stop by the restaurant to chat with her. Of course, you should also stop by just to have a great meal. Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Café is located at 1815 Rosewood Ave. Hours are listed on the website, though they may fluctuate due to the amount of work Lola does for the community. Follow Queen Lola on Facebook for more updates.
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