In 2015, when Teresa Lamar spotted the vacant storefront building at the corner of Locust and Willis Streets, she felt like she’d come home to a place she’d never been.
Bearing an ‘old-timey’ Hyser’s Soda Fountain sign out front, and a vintage Breyers Ice Cream sign in the expansive back yard, the charming spot seemed to sing a siren song of yesteryear and future promise, both drawing her in.
The business, at various times called Hyser’s, Harrison’s Confectionary, and Lewis’ Cash Market, remains nostalgically remembered by many residents who lived nearby as youngsters and rode bikes to enjoy pizza, burgers, snow-cones, and many other affordably scrumptious delights.
An Eastern Shore of Virginia native in family of ten children, Lamar had maintained a Cambridge office connected to her 24-year career as a government contractor.
As she approached her own coming crossroads between the corporate world and retirement, Lamar was growing more attuned to her heart’s desire, as far as her next chapter was concerned.
A lifelong love of cooking and a sense of community combined to inspire her reimagination of the neighborhood fixture rechristened as Minty’s Place, the shortened version of Harriet Tubman’s birth name, Araminta.
In October 2019, when Lamar’s restaurant opened at last, the southern/soul food menu made a splash with it’s warm, welcoming ambiance and tasty dishes like baked beans, made with a variety of beans including black beans and hints of cinnamon and honey, Moses Chicken and Waffles, the Emancipation Burger served with dry slaw and cheddar cheese, a mini turkey-burger slider, grilled pickle, skillet mac and cheese, barbeque, lemon whipping cream pound cake, plus Vegan options like smoky collard greens, seeming to have a promising future.
But with the Covid-19 pandemic lock down beginning in March, 2020, Minty’s Place closed it’s doors for what was hoped to be a temporary hiatus.
Taking time to effectively restaff the restaurant and focus on family with the arrival of a grandbaby this past June, the hiatus has lingered beyond the health emergency. Throughout the downtime, Lamar has carefully maintained the site’s exterior, periodically posting signs advising an eventual reopening.
Though still closed for now, several months ago a large Harriet Tubman mural with the famous quote attributed to her, “I come to set a place for you,” was spotted adorning the entire Willis Street side of the shop. Above the 824 Locust Street entrance the words Love Thy Neighbor, expressing Lamar’s wish to bring healing to all with a new beginning, also appeared.
In keeping with her constant striving for quality, Lamar had engaged noted mural artist Michael Rosato to create the work she envisioned as bringing the community together. Rosato is the master craftsman behind the famed Take My Hand Tubman mural behind the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center at 424 Race Street, and numerous others now dotting the Chesapeake Mural Trail.
After considering several names for the restaurant, finally deciding to name the eatery in her honor was Lamar’s way of paying tribute to Tubman’s enduring legacy. The mural was an effort to underscore Tubman’s efforts to wrestle freedom for the area’s African-American slaves, while also addressing those continuing to suffer deprivations due to segregation in Cambridge, which she learned about while studying the area’s history.
Where Minty’s is located marked the unofficial ‘dividing line’ between the races here,” Lamar noted. “There was a time when Blacks couldn’t even enter the establishment.”
Despite her goal of setting a new tone which welcomed all, the mural and, ironically the words ‘Love They Neighbor’ became issues brought up to the attention of the Cambridge Planning and Zoning office.
Several residents made the point that permission had not been granted for the artwork and words.
Lamar responded that she had been unaware that permission was required before going ahead.
Technically, she was correct, given that there are currently no specific guidelines detailing what is and isn’t permitted, particularly in a primarily residential neighborhood.
“I know that change, for anyone, is hard. I respect that, and want Minty’s to be inclusive and welcoming for all,” she added.
Planning and Zoning staff allowed the mural painting to continue, regarding the Tubman portrait and quote on the building’s side a mural.
As for the Love Thy Neighbor words, Lamar will need to present a design plan Planning and Zoning, which effectively ties in the words directly with the mural.
With the setting of new mural guidelines currently under study, as announced at last month’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting, Minty’s is set to be grandfathered in, according to Planning and Zoning staffer Charlene Shaw.
Lamar continues looking ahead, hoping to be ready for a reopening sometime this Spring or Summer, taking care to finalize finding the best additions to her cooking and serving staff, ensuring a smooth and steady future.
Lamar intends to assist in cooking some dishes, but wants additional skilled staff to share in the bulk of menu offerings, which will include some items prepared with an eye on healthy versions of favorites.
She is excited to continue moving forward, building Minty’s for the community and also to hand down as a family legacy.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that Minty’s Place can be part of a thriving and evolving Cambridge community. Our goal is to be a positive addition that adds to our communities with good food for the soul,” Lamar added.
For more information visit www.mintysplace.com, Minty’s Place Facebook and Instagram pages, or call 240-531-1362.
Debra Messick is a retired Dorchester County Public Library associate and lifelong freelance writer. A transplanted native Philadelphian, she has enjoyed residing in Cambridge MD since 1995.