Florence’s Restaurant in Oklahoma City is state’s first James Beard Award winner

The 70-year-old Florence’s Restaurant just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City last week was named the first James Beard Award winner in Oklahoma history.

According to The Oklahoman newspaper, Florence’s was among six winners of the Beard foundation’s 2022 America’s Classics Award, given to locally-owned restaurants with “timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.”

Any sort of Beard Award is the equivalent of the Academy Award in the restaurant industry. Florence’s founder, Florence Jones Kemp, is 91 years old and still helps run the restaurant. She apparently was nonplussed about the award:

“She told me, ‘I don’t know anything about anybody named Beard!’” her daughter Victoria said, and laughed.

Florence founded her restaurant in 1952, but the arrival of her daughter Victoria in 2015 set the course for national attention.

Victoria said she was so stunned she thought it was a practical joke.

“I really just could not believe it,” she said. “We are so honored to receive this award.”

The newspaper reports that Victoria’s arrival in 2015 to help her mom raised the restaurant’s profile. It expanded in size and added a patio and full-service bar.

Florence’s went from a chalkboard menu to a proper one featuring a photo of Florence in her youth. After the restaurant took possession of the entire building, the entrance moved and opened to a hostess stand. Fresh flowers became a mainstay on tables along with utensils tidily wrapped in napkins.

The menu hasn’t changed much over the years. Fried chicken and candied yams are its signatures. Neck bones, oxtail, chicken and dumplings, honey meatloaf, and three sides from a list of 11 come with every meal. Cornbread and yeast rolls arrive shortly after guests are seated.

The Beard Awards stated this about Kemp:

“Florence Jones Kemp was born in 1931 in Boley, Oklahoma, a town that was founded in the 19th century by Black pioneers. From her mother, she learned strength and grit, as well as how to plant and harvest tomatoes, onions, and okra, how to milk a cow and churn butter, and how much better farm-fresh food tastes. In 1952, she had saved enough money as a server to open her own restaurant in Oklahoma City. All she had was ‘two chickens and a prayer’…Today, the restaurant is nearly 70 years old, and Florence Kemp is still proudly working—along with her daughter Victoria — serving the same recipes her mother taught her, with a few new ones sprinkled in, and all of it what she calls “good country food for the soul.”

More about Florence’s big win can be read in 405 Magazine.

Florence’s Restaurant was featured on the Food Network’s “Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives” a few years ago:

Victoria and Florence will travel to Chicago to pick up the Beard Award in June.

Florence’s Restaurant, established in 1952, is at 1437 Northeast 23rd St., just east of where historic Route 66 turns west at the state capitol building.

(Image of fried chicken at Florence’s Restaurant in Oklahaoma City, via Facebook)

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