The King’s Kitchen’s transformation begins just before 3 p.m.
By then, the weekday lunch crowd – uptown Charlotte bankers, lawyers and office workers drawn to skillet-fried chicken and unimpeachable macaroni and cheese – has come and gone. Conversation has quieted as the last diners finish meals, dab napkins to mouth, rise to leave.
Minutes later, the Rev. Amy Lambert-Frowine arrives. She wears jeans and a leather jacket. Her hair is black and thick; her red lipstick matches her red flats. She was once addicted to drugs. Black-aproned servers re-emerge from the kitchen with refreshments – water and iced tea, thick cornbread squares and fist-sized biscuits. Someone pulls a lectern into the dining room. Again, the restaurant begins to fill.
Jim Noble, who owns this place, is known as a restaurateur who used fresh, local ingredients before fresh and local was a big thing. In addition to The King’s Kitchen at Trade and Church streets, he owns two Rooster’s restaurants, uptown and in SouthPark, plus Noble’s Grille in Winston-Salem.
But Noble, 60, is also a minister, and The King’s Kitchen is as much about ministry as good Southern food. In 2010, he opened the restaurant as a nonprofit, creating one of the most unusual local efforts to help people struggling with homelessness, addiction, criminal behavior. His goal: Feed the hungry and offer food-service job training and spiritual study to those who need it. “I thoroughly believe God can transform anybody,” he says.
This is why the restaurant hosts a Bible study at 3 p.m. each weekday. It’s why Noble’s Restoring Place Church meets here on Sunday mornings and why he hands out free boxed meals when he has the money, as he’s doing on this day. And it’s why people on the street know that The King’s Kitchen offers help without judgment.
“People just show up,” Noble says. This makes for unexpected situations – one woman who tried to solicit for prostitution during lunch, another who arrived in pajamas, escaping from sex traffickers, he says. One man showed up at Bible study after walking from Rockingham. None of this ruffles Noble, who often quotes a verse in Proverbs: “The only clean stable is an empty stable.”
Biscuits and Bible
On this recent Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen people, a mix of ages, file in for Bible study. One man limps, carrying a hard hat. A woman wears a hat, scarf and long coat, though it’s 70 degrees outside.
Some people have brought Bibles. Only a couple of attendees seem unengaged. Maybe they’re only here for the free food. Noble doesn’t care. “If they’re hungry,” he says, “I’ll feed them.”
Speaking over the occasional clanking of pots and pans, Lambert-Frowine and the group spend the hour discussing the sin of pride. Then, before the Bible study concludes, she puts in a plug for God’s redemption: “Here’s the power of redemption, OK? When God created man, he stooped down, and what did he do to the dust of the earth? He breathed into it and made a living being. And through Jesus he stooped down even further to bring redemption to us.”
As the study group talks, pedestrians pass outside, heading to appointments, preoccupied on cell phones. City buses rumble by. The afternoon rush hour begins to build.
By 4 p.m., Lambert-Frowine is winding down. She gives thanks to Jesus. She prays for forgiveness of sins. As participants disperse, they pick up white cardboard boxes filled with fried chicken and sides, plus a few bags of leftover biscuits and cornbread.
Noble’s church, Restoring Place, is aptly named. The word “restaurant” is from the French word for “restore,” which nicely sums up his dual pursuits, restoring the hungry body and the downtrodden spirit.
Among the study group members taking food is Ronald Hood, who’s been attending for a while. He comes for the spiritual message, but appreciates the meals, too. “Have you seen this food?” he says admiringly.
During the study hour, Noble has been working at a table. He’s got new projects brewing – a Rooster’s in Charleston and a 24-hour ministry, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center, that’s part of the Dream Center Network, which began in Los Angeles. His King’s Kitchen ministry has made him realize, he says, that the task before him in Charlotte “was much bigger than I thought.” He plans to open the Dream Center later this year.
By the time the Bible study group departs, the kitchen staff has begun preparing the next meal. The glorious aroma of fresh chicken hitting hot oil wafts into the dining room. In an hour, it’ll be time for dinner.
Pam Kelley: 704 358-5271
Jim Noble’s King’s Kitchen
For his work with The King’s Kitchen, Jim Noble was honored this month with a 2015 Restaurant Neighbor Award from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. Last year, The King’s Kitchen, 129 W. Trade St., spent about $175,000 on its training program and food donations, he says. Noble also relies on volunteers and contributions for both the restaurant and his new project, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center.