Cynthia Green believes the patrons of her restaurant, Owens Grocery & Market, benefit from taking the time out to enjoy a good meal.

“They enjoy the pleasurable talking along with the food they get,” says Green, who has been serving customers comforting homestyle breakfasts and lunches in the Valley Park neighborhood since 1979, when she inherited Owens Grocery & Market from her parents. Owens opened in 1938 and has stayed dedicated to its neighborhood — and Green values seeing familiar faces come through the doors on a regular basis.

This weekend, the second annual Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival will recognize Green with its Pioneer Award for her commitment to feeding the residents of the Valley Park neighborhood. Along with running the shop on Balis Drive, Green has long been involved in community service work in the area, like providing free hot meals for those in need.

The festival takes place Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26, at North Boulevard Town Square in downtown Baton Rouge.

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Extrerior of Owens Grocery & Market. Cynthia Green, the owner-operator of Owens Grocery Market & Deli in the Valley Park Neighborhood Tuesday May 21, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Green in 1979 took over the business from her parents, who started it in 1938. On Sunday, May 26, Green is slated to receive a recognition from the Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival for her food and her community service in the neighborhood.

Green says she was honored to receive this year's Pioneer Award "because I thought about my parents, who originated the store. The store is still standing with the same ownership, and the people, when they come in the store, are always remembering the kind acts of my parents who thought there was a need for business in the community.”

As a child, Green says, she watched her mother feed customers who came to Owens when they were hungry and without money. Her father — who had retired from Standard Oil, now ExxonMobil — saw the community needed a local grocer, gas station and hardware store and decided to open the business. In 1979, when her parents decided to retire from the store, Green and her family relocated back to Baton Rouge from Oakland, California.

Green starts a typical day at Owens with morning prayers before customers arrive. The business serves a generational spectrum of customers, but Green has a special affinity for the youth and the elders. Many of her older customers share stories of church, “old times” and politics in between bites of Owens’ yams, collard greens, cabbage and red beans.

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Cynthia Green, the owner-operator of Owens Grocery & Market in the Valley Park Neighborhood, prepares food for lunchtime customers on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Green in 1979 took over the business from her parents, who started it in 1938. On Sunday, May 26, Green is slated to receive a recognition from the Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival for her food and her community service in the neighborhood.

The family-friendly Soul Food Festival, an invention of Baton Rouge blues musician Henry Turner Jr., will feature music, arts vendors, cooking competitions and, of course, good soul food. 

Turner says it was an easy decision to start the festival. “I lived in Baton Rouge, grew here and toured nationally for 25 years," he says. "When I was grew up here there was a thriving African American community and soul food was everywhere. After 25 years of touring, when I started trying to make roots here again, I didn’t see it."

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Baked chicken for the lunchtime customers. Cynthia Green, the owner-operator of Owens Grocery & Market in the Valley Park Neighborhood Tuesday May 21, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Green in 1979 took over the business from her parents, who started it in 1938. On Sunday, May 26, Green is slated to receive a recognition from the Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival for her food and her community service in the neighborhood.

Turner used his experience in promoting music festivals around the country to help jump-start the Soul Food Festival, which, he says, is an outlet to give more exposure to mom-and-pop soul food eateries like Owens Grocery & Market.

Green herself is an advocate for the preservation of soul food culture in Baton Rouge.

“The culture of it is what you put into it," she says. "I feel that I need to advertise more of these foods and more restaurants need to deal with more of these foods. The past generations have lived long on these foods I serve now.”

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A portrait of Owens Grocery & Market's original founders David and Emma Owens hangs on the wall with the Ten Commandments behind the register of the soul food restaurant.

For Turner, the connection between good, down-home cooking and roots music come together like a pot and stove.

“All of the roots music," he says, "in the black community — gospel, soul, blues, jazz, funk — all of those things are synonymous with soul food. Why? Because of community.”


Owens Grocery and Market

2444 Balis Drive

7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to noon Saturday

(225) 926-5831; "Owens Grocery & Market" on Facebook


Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26

North Boulevard Town Square, downtown Baton Rouge

Free general admission; $25-$100 VIP tickets

brsoulfoodfest.com

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Henry Turner Jr., left, founded the Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival, which will hold its second edition on Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26, in downtown Baton Rouge.

Schedule

Saturday, May 25

10 a.m.: DJ “Teddy” Lloyd Johnson

10:45 a.m.: ‘Nspire

11:15 a.m.: Lee Tyme

11:45 a.m.: Leon Hitchens

12:15 p.m.: Wyanda Paul

12:45 p.m.: Larry “LZ” Dillon

1:15 p.m.: Champagne

2 p.m.: Eric Dixon

2:20 p.m.: Eddie Cool

2:45 p.m.: Soul & Parliament

3:30 p.m.: Determined

4:15 p.m.: Xavier

4:45 p.m.: Winners of the soul food cook-offs announced

5:05 p.m.: Ms. Jess

5:25 p.m.: African Queen Z’s Dance Troupe

5:40 p.m.: Henry Turner Jr.

6:25 p.m.: Proph3t

7 p.m.: Xavie Shorts

7:30 p.m.: Calandra Gantt

Sunday, May 26

10 a.m.: DJ-“Teddy” Lloyd Johnson

10:30 a.m.: Pioneer Award presentation to Cynthia Green

11:15 a.m.:Eric Dixon

11:35 a.m.: Christian Cordan

12 p.m.: Ivory

12:45 p.m.: Uncle Chess

1:10 p.m.: ‘Nspire

1:30 p.m.: Mr. Bow Bow Bow

2:15 p.m.: Vendi

3 p.m.: Winners of the soul food cook-offs announced

3:20 p.m.: Neva Ford Nation

3:45 p.m.: Lillie Lewis

4:30 p.m.:Henry Turner Jr.

5:15 p.m.: SmokeHouse Porter and Miss Mamie

6 p.m.: Clarence “Pie Man” Williams & the Rouge Band

6:45 p.m.: Kenny Neal