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Cornbread Is the Heart of Down-Home Cooking

Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen | Terry Dulan

Person scooping cornbread out of pans

Kneaded: L.A. Bread Stories, celebrates L.A. history, heritage, and communities through the lens of bread.

In an interview with Terry Dulan of Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen, he shares with us the story of his family's roots in L.A., the power of entrepreneurship, and how cornbread is at the heart of soul food. Terry’s father Adolf Dulan was the founder of the soul food enterprise and the self-proclaimed, “King of Soul Food.” 

Terry Dulan holding a plate of cornbread

Cornbread is the item that pulls the whole soul food plate together.

- Terry Dulan 

How did you get started making cornbread?

I started working in the family business at age eleven. So I got my start early, but then I went away to college. I came back to help my dad in the twilight of his life and run the business—so that's why I'm here.  

The family business started in the 1970s with selling hamburgers, and grew to delicious soul food at Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch. When someone had the idea of opening a soul food restaurant in Marina del Rey, California, they didn’t know what would happen—but it took off like wildfire! We had all kinds of celebrities: I ate food facing Elizabeth Taylor and many other celebrities! But also regular folks, blue-collar folks because everyone loved this place and the food was delicious.  

Terry Dulan in Kitchen
Terry Dulan got started early helping out in the family business and is pictured here in the kitchen at Hamburger City, one of the first businesses owned by his father Adolf Dulan.
Terry Dulan 

The recipes we use were handed down from the good cooks in my family, like my grandmother, aunts, and cousins. We have some really good stuff from them, especially the cornbread, and we brought in other cooks as well. Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch had a good 30-year run, and established my dad as the King of Soul Food. In 1999, we opened Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen and a second location opened in 2011 in Gramercy Park.   

Restaurant sign reading "Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch Down Home Cooking"
Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch was started in 1985 in Marina Del Rey by Adolf Dulan and closed in 2008 after rent was tripled by the landlord.  
Genomatic, Instagram

What inspired your family to settle in Los Angeles? 

My dad was from Luther, Oklahoma and moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s. In those times, many people migrated from the South to California because of affirmative action and, overall, for better access. California was a little more socially progressive, and so at the time, Black folk were getting jobs like in the post office, as social workers, and as nurses. My mom was a nurse, and my dad was a social worker. At the age of 40, he realized that with the four kids he had then, there was no way he would be able to put them all through college [on a social worker's salary]. And so, he quit his job and opened the hamburger stand. The stand was initially an Orange Julius, and so there I was at eleven years old making Orange Juliuses and listening to him preach to his kids about entrepreneurship. Everyone thought he was crazy to leave his county job, but he fully believed in the power of positive thinking, thinking outside the box, and entrepreneurship. And that is what he did. He eventually changed it into a restaurant called Hamburger City—and it took off. So my parents, Adolf and Mary Dulan, opened a business and the rest is history—we are going on over 40 years.  

Hamburger City story front
Terry's father, Adolf Dulan, purchased an Orange Julius and eventually changed it into a restaurant called Hamburger City—which grew from one location to five. This location was at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Hillcrest Dr. in South L.A.
Terry Dulan 

Tell us about the communities you serve or your typical customer. 

We have all kinds of customers. This is a blue-collar neighborhood, so there is that typical everyday customer. We also have customers who are headed to the Rams or Chargers games which is new, but we also get celebrities, comedians, and rappers who come through—so it is a pretty wide range. We have had a few rappers come through and buy food for the whole line of people waiting! So we've had everybody. There's no telling who might show up and I mean that literally! 

Terry Dulan pulling warm cornbread muffins from the oven.
Terry Dulan pulls a large pan of freshly made cornbread out of the oven. 
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

What story does cornbread tell?  

Cornbread is the item that pulls the whole soul food plate together. My favorite way to eat cornbread is to simply put a piece of cornbread in a cup and put black-eyed peas or red beans all over it. The juice from the beans, greens, or stew, we call that pot liquor. If you mix that with cornbread, it is almost like coffee and a donut—that is what it is all about and is to die for. So for me, cornbread connects the whole plate of soul food and I just love it!

Cornbread on a plate
Dulan’s old-fashioned style cornbread muffins are made with cornmeal, flour, eggs, and sugar.

What memories or emotions arise while making cornbread?

I have memories of making cornbread as a kid—mixing it, cooking in a cast iron pan, and cutting it. We would then mix it with red beans or stew and make that yummy goodness, well that is how we grew up. And that continues here with the beautiful cornbread muffins. It's just super delicious. 

Here at the restaurant, we mix it old-fashioned style with cornmeal, flour, eggs, and sugar. We actually use a big paddle, our team doesn't like to use a mixer so that it stays legitimately old-fashioned. Since we mass produce, we have to make pan after pan of it. It's very popular and people just come in and buy four or five packs of cornbread.

Man holding large paddle and mixing ingreadients

Dulan's staff pride themselves in hand mixing the cornbread ingredients by hand, for their daily batch of cornbread. 

Batter and large Whisk

The cornbread ingredients are mixed and tested for consistency.

Cornbread muffins pan

The cornbread muffins are carefully removed from the pan.

Person wrapping two cornbread muffins in foil

The warm cornbread muffins are wrapped in foil and are ready to add to curbside orders.

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Dulan's staff pride themselves in hand mixing the cornbread ingredients by hand, for their daily batch of cornbread. 

The cornbread ingredients are mixed and tested for consistency.

The cornbread muffins are carefully removed from the pan.

The warm cornbread muffins are wrapped in foil and are ready to add to curbside orders.

There is a debate on sweetened versus unsweetened cornbread, what is your take? 

The Indigenous people of America had maize, which was introduced to the Europeans and Black folk. They used maize to make Johnny cakes or hoecakes (types of cornmeal flatbread) which weren’t really sweet. People started sweetening these with molasses or syrup and so recipes started to change over time—people experimented with adding milk, eggs, and the controversial sugar. And so what happened is that recipes updated with the addition of more ingredients, like topping it off with butter—so it just became different and evolved. That’s how we came to get the cornbread that is made here.  

close up image of johnny cake on a plate

Prenshree Pillai, Flickr

Johnny cakes or hoecakes are cornmeal flatbreads that continue to be an early American staple food and eaten commonly in the American south.

Johnny cakes in a basket

U.S. Embassy Belize, WikiMedia

Johnny cakes are widely popular in Belize and are also called journey cakes. They are typically unsweetened and eaten at breakfast and lunch. 

Bahamian johnny cake on a platter

Kavita in the Kitchen, Facebook

Recipes for johnny cakes vary greatly in the Caribbean, but the Bahamian johnny cakes are traditionally baked in a large round plan until slightly browned, and served in wedges.

Person selling roadside arepas, tortas and johnnycakes

Mercedes, Flickr

In the Dominican Republic, cornbread cakes are typically deep-fried and are a popular beach snack. They are called yaniqueques, or yanikeke, and are bought roadside with arepas and tortas.

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Johnny cakes or hoecakes are cornmeal flatbreads that continue to be an early American staple food and eaten commonly in the American south.

Prenshree Pillai, Flickr

Johnny cakes are widely popular in Belize and are also called journey cakes. They are typically unsweetened and eaten at breakfast and lunch. 

U.S. Embassy Belize, WikiMedia

Recipes for johnny cakes vary greatly in the Caribbean, but the Bahamian johnny cakes are traditionally baked in a large round plan until slightly browned, and served in wedges.

Kavita in the Kitchen, Facebook

In the Dominican Republic, cornbread cakes are typically deep-fried and are a popular beach snack. They are called yaniqueques, or yanikeke, and are bought roadside with arepas and tortas.

Mercedes, Flickr

How does DULAN'S cornbread build community? 

It is important to the community to get good cornbread—not only because it is central to eating soul food (you need to sop up all that juice from the yams, black-eyed peas, and greens!), but also we saw that they really needed it when the pandemic hit. As restaurant owners, we didn’t know what would happen to us when the pandemic started, and I was very afraid. We saw many restaurants going under, but what I found is that people wanted comfort food. And so they were ordering and coming in to take that food home so they didn't have to cook. Since we have hearty portions here, they could eat off our plates for a couple of days and they were buying extra cornbread to go with their meal. If we are making cornbread, people will wait 20 minutes to make sure they get it with their meal. People love it, and I love it! 

People in line to order at Dulans
During the pandemic, Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen has adapted its cafeteria-style restaurant into a curb-side window service.  

What we've come to see is that bread made from corn continues to be a staple item for people and has been throughout history. From the Indigenous folk who introduced it to everyone, through the history of Appalachia, and through slavery, it was everywhere. Everyone ate cornbread because it was abundant!

EXPLORE MORE FROM dulans

To see what's cooking at Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen check out dulans-sfk.com or visit them at 202 E Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301 and 1714 W Century Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90047.

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