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Alice Carter loved cooking soul food since she was a child growing up in the Deep South of Mississippi.
She brought that "down-home cooking" to Chicago in the early 1960s when she landed a job at a local West Side neighborhood eatery. But it was nearly 30 years ago that she opened the restaurant that many now today know as Alice's Soul Food, currently located on 5638 W. Chicago Ave.
On Wednesday, Ms. Carter, 77, died from a "brief illness," her daughter, Jackie Carter said.
Alice's Soul Food has been a favorite local eatery over the years for many Austin and West Side residents. Alice's has had a couple of locations in Austin during its 29 years but has spent the majority of its time at its Chicago Avenue spot.
"She was a friend to everyone. She was always there for people, willing to give her last if they needed it," her daughter said.
Born in Pearl, Miss., Ms. Carter came from a big family and has two living siblings.
From those southern roots she learned about and fell in love with cooking. Ms. Carter was part of the Great Migration Generation, coming to Chicago and the West Side in 1950.
She began working at a local restaurant in 1961 and opened her own restaurant in 1972. She also worked for the Chicago Transit Authority beginning in the 1970s, but cooking for the community was her passion.
Ms. Carter went on to open Alice's Soul Food in 1983 at Madison and Parkside. She moved to the Chicago Avenue spot in 1988, remaining there before relocating to Division and Pine in 2004. The restaurant returned to its Chicago Avenue location in early 2010. But wherever her restaurant went, customers made sure to seek her out. And Ms. Carter treated everyone who walked into her restaurant as not just a customer but a friend.
"I don't care if someone doesn't want anything but a glass of water or change for $10. That's a potential customer because if you extend him that service with a smile, he'll be back," she said in the 2010 interview with AustinTalks.org and published in Austin Weekly News.
Ms. Carter has seven children, all adults now. Her daughter, Jackie, and son, Glenn, are the restaurant's current managers. Jackie says the family will keep the restaurant going "as much as we can; just praying and trying to go on."
Alice's customers were equally stunned and saddened by Ms. Carter's death, Jackie said.
"She's a pillar in the community because she loved everyone, and everyone loved her for the most part," Jackie said. "She's going to be missed."
A funeral service for Ms. Carter is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, March 20, at United Baptist Church, 4242 W. Roosevelt Rd. Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. on Monday, March 19 at the church. The family requests cards or other well-wishes be sent to Alice's Soul Food, 5638 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60651 (773-921-1100).