What tickles me about the owner of Country Cooking is that she always seems to have something going on.
Either Saudia Shuler is bringing in a live camel for her son's Middle Eastern-theme prom sendoff, or she's giving away hundreds of backpacks to neighborhood kids for back to school, or organizing her staff to do their own rendition of a Cardi B rap song.
On Wednesday, Shuler hosted an event for the jailed rapper Meek Mill, who last week was sentenced to two to four years in state prison for repeatedly violating probation on 2008 gun and drug charges. It was "Free Meek Meal Day," and she gave away platters of fried fish and grits.
Shuler advertised the food giveaway on Instagram on Tuesday to her 75,000 followers. I was amused and intrigued. This was another example of how popular Mill is and how support for him has morphed into a #FreeMeekMill movement. Billboards, buses, newsstands suddenly are carrying the slogan: Stand With Meek Mill. And it's catching on.
On Wednesday, I got a text from a source who told me people started lining up outside Country Cooking in the 2800 block of North 22nd Street around 7 a.m.
By the time I showed up around lunchtime, the food unfortunately was gone. Shuler was standing out front with her employees, who were all wearing black shirts with Mill's mug shot on them. They were posing for photos and everyone seemed happy.
Shuler said they'd volunteered to work as a show of love and support for Mill, who, she said, had been a customer since her days of selling soul food platters out of her North Philly rowhouse. Judging from her Instagram feed, turnout was good.
"You know the line was down the block. Don't play with Saud! You already know what I do," she said when I asked her about it. "But on a for-real note, Meek has been supporting me since I was in the house [selling platters]. He was writing rhymes" there.
"When he come to Philly and he do videos, he says … I don't want nobody's food but Saudia's food, and he sends [his people] down here," she said.
For her, helping the community is a labor of love. I met her in May after she spent $25,000 to bring in three tons of sand and other props for a Middle East-inspired prom sendoff for her son, Johnny "JJ" Eden, now a freshman at Delaware State University. She had arranged for him to have three beautifully attired dates, three outfit changes, and three luxury cars. She served Islamic-themed cakes. Hundreds turned out to eat and watch her son pose for pictures.
She's a fun-loving, larger-than-life businesswoman known for her generosity. But all of those free Meek Meals had to cost a lot of money. Grits may not be expensive, but all that seafood?
"Anything I do, I do it from the heart," she told me. "I definitely love him … He really came from the struggles, like from the trenches … I closed the store down today for Meek. It's Meek Day."
She started handing out food at 9 a.m. as Mill's music blasted and people danced.
"We gave the food out until it was out. The community came out and it showed love," she said happily.
Shuler pointed at how too often African Americans don't get a fair shake in the criminal justice system and added, "When you free Meek, you're going to free a whole lot of other people."