Despite the pandemic and, really, against all odds, Fortune Southern knew she’d be opening a restaurant right about now. The former owner of the Ralph & Richie’s food truck had long wanted to get off the road, in part because of all the problems (the break downs, the limited space, the hours switching lanes) that come with running a rig, but also because she knows, feels, that after eight years in Los Angeles, her time has come.
“This is where I’ve always wanted to be,” says Southern, sitting in front of her corner restaurant inside a single-story retail plaza off Ventura Boulevard in Encino. She means Los Angeles, but she also means owning a restaurant, and, surprisingly Encino specifically. Southern spent years canvassing the area with her food truck, which earned some local acclaim after appearing on the Steve Harvey Show, a show that has occasionally acted as a launching pad for other Black entrepreneurs like Keith Garrett of All Flavor No Grease. In that time, she found the Valley (and Encino in particular) to be the most friendly, both for parking and for customers — so much so that she made the area her home, and vowed to bring a brick and mortar restaurant along when she could.
“This was going to be my last year running the truck,” says Southern, who didn’t even formally start looking for a lease until after restaurant closures began in March. “When the pandemic happened I just kind of took that as a sign to go ahead and move forward.”
And so Barbie-Q is born. The name tells a version of the restaurant’s story: Southern is a striking Black woman (a pageant contest first brought her out to LA as a child) and she moves through her small storefront and attached outdoor seating areas with a graciousness of movement. The aptly-named restaurant’s menu also leans into traditional barbecue territory, though it’s far from a Texas-styled joint.
Really, Barbie-Q has the midwest in its bones (specifically Cleveland, Ohio), where giant Polish sausage links are the sandwich standard, and can coexist on a menu next to pastrami reubens and soul food basics like saucy ribs, baked beans, and macaroni and cheese. Comfort staples, the dishes she grew up making with her mother, though now it’s her husband in the kitchen doing most of the cooking. Southern handles the logistics and the customers, and she manages both well. Barbie-Q has only been open about a week, but between the customers from her food truck and her new Valley fans, things are trending up — pandemic be damned.
“To me, it just seemed logical” to open when the time was right for her, and not for the world, says Southern. “I knew that I could still do mostly takeout and delivery from here, so business would be okay. I don’t know that I would have opened a real restaurant,” she says with a laugh, meaning a large, well-funded space with tables and chairs and waiters and all that endless overhead, “But this? Absolutely!”
She’s being generous. This is a real restaurant, even if the tables are all outside (just like they are for everyone else), and it’s a step up from her Dream 1.0 food truck. In the coming months Southern says she’ll be growing her menu items, tweaking hours, and hopefully adding a few more personal touches inside the space, even if it’s just for the customers while they’re inside ordering. After all, this is her dream, so why take it for granted?
“People can feel it if you like what you do, or not,” says Southern. “It matters. Even mopping the floors here, I’m so happy. I turn the TV on and I’m singing, dancing. It’s a big difference.”
Barbie-Q is now open at 15928 Ventura Boulevard in Encino, keeping hours from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily, with an extension to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.