My Three Sons Is the Soul Food Restaurant You Don’t Want to Miss on Your Next Trip to Charleston
Everybody is family at this well-loved North Charleston, South Carolina, joint.
“I’ve had other jobs, but I always end up back in the kitchen,” says restaurateur and chef Lorraine Smalls. “This is my calling: A love of food.”
Six years ago, along with her son Antwan and longtime friend and mentor Alice Warren, Smalls opened My Three Sons, a soul food restaurant in North Charleston, South Carolina. In an area flooded with restaurants, their homey establishment has earned attention for all the right reasons: The mac ‘n’ cheese, for one thing.
Smalls says their secret to success is simple. “I never looked at the competition,” she says. “I just do what I do. I just cook, and that’s what I’ve been doing these past six years, making sure everything is tasty and not overly seasoned.”
If undivided attention is one of her secrets, Knorr chicken base, which she puts in everything from crab soup to red rice, may be the other. “That’s the love of my life,” Smalls says with a laugh. “Everybody [in my family] is going to the store to get a little jar of it and calling it love.”
Of course, there’s been a lot of hard work too.
Smalls grew up on Johns Island, about twenty or so miles from where her restaurant is now. The youngest of nine children, she often trailed her mother or sister in the kitchen, experimenting with the area’s fresh produce on her own. Eventually, she tried cooking school, but didn’t find it to be a good fit. She enlisted in the military as a cook, learning on the fly instead. “I had the chance to visit different places and had different instructors who did everything from scratch,” says Smalls. “That caught my attention.”
But when she rejoined the civilian ranks, it was Warren who gave her a job and showed her the ropes of the restaurant business. “When I first started, she had me waiting [tables] on the floor,” says Smalls. “I’m kind of a shy person, and that just didn’t sit too well. So, one day she told me to come in the kitchen, and when I went in there, she started talking and showed me how to do this, do that, and the rest is history.”
Encouraged by Warren, Smalls tried cooking school again.
“I think I was the oldest student in there,” she says with a laugh. “I was a veteran, maybe 51 or 52. I wasn’t going to let the little kids, you know, outdo me. I had to learn cooking all over again.”
Smalls was just 20 credit hours shy of graduating when her mother died. It was then that Warren and Antwan came to her about opening My Three Sons, the restaurant that’s since become a soul food staple in the Charleston area. “Hopefully one day, I’ll go back and finish my 20 hours and get my degree,” says Smalls. “But not right now. Got a lot going on right now.”
Just last month, My Three Sons opened in a new, larger space on Dorchester Road.
“We were doing so much good things there,” says Smalls of their old location on East Montague Avenue. “But we needed some more space so I could branch out and do some of the things that I’ve wanted to do from day one, like breakfast. Just wanted to spread my wings a little bit.”
The new location will also give them an opportunity to honor Smalls’s son Courtenay, who passed away in January.
“When things didn’t look right, he’d come in the kitchen and say, ‘Hey Mama, this don’t look right,’” Smalls remembers with a laugh. “I’m busy; I’m sweating in the corner. I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ But I went back and redid it, just like I want others to do the same thing. He’s that type of person…We’re going to make sure all his dreams and hopes come true and do it exactly the way that he wanted to do things here, making sure everything’s right.”
That’s something you can always count on at My Three Sons—that, and the fact that nobody leaves hungry, or a stranger.
“Everybody is family here,” says Smalls, who recommends the seafood rice for first timers. “Just come and sit down and eat. It’ll be just like home.”
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My Three Sons has a new location: 5237 Dorchester Road, Charleston, SC 29418; 843-202-0189