Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Chef Rock Harper originally opened Queen Mother's, his fried chicken sandwich concept, in August 2020 in Ghost Line DC, a "ghost food hall" in Glover Park. On December 8, after closing briefly and relocating to La Cocina VA, a non-profit in Arlington with shared kitchen space, Queen Mother's re-opens with a slightly updated menu.
Harper says he created Queen Mother's as a tribute to his mother, grandmother, and "to all of the women who have informed and built our culture." Through this project, Harper emphasizes that he aims to honor fried chicken as a part of Black culture and also stake a claim in the growing fried chicken sandwich market for Black restaurateurs and food professionals. Menu offerings include Virginia Honey Butter and Nashville Hot fried chicken sandwiches, as well as a Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich featuring Virginia pickles and a house-made sauce.
For Harper, podcaster, former Executive Chef at B. Smith's, and winner of the third season of Hell's Kitchen, Queen Mother's is a result of his desire to embrace Black culture and reclaim fried chicken. He notes that he has wanted to open a concept focused on fried chicken for ten to fifteen years, but had been stymied by a variety of factors. Now, he says, "I've come into an awareness where I'm proud of the cuisine from my culture. I've always been amazed at how much fried chicken we sell but there are no Black players in that segment."
Harper recognizes that for Black Americans, fried chicken can be a complex subject. Fried chicken, a dish "developed and prepared by enslaved cooks" with a deep history in Black communities as an avenue for entrepreneurialism has also been used as a tool for stereotyping and degrading Blacks. To illustrate the power of negative stereotypes about Black people and chicken, Harper says, "imagine you take a picture of Obama and you photoshop a slice of pizza into his hand and send that out. Most people would respond with "lol" or maybe confusion and say 'ok that's Obama with a slice of pizza.' You could do that with a burger, pierogi, most foods, and the response would be nothing. However, if you photoshop a piece of fried chicken into that picture and send that out, the chances are the people on the receiving end of that will perceive it as a slur. That's how polarizing chicken is for Black folks. We created it, we eat it, but we are ashamed ourselves to be seen in public with it."
Harper created Queen Mother's in an effort to move past those negative connotations. He says, "we have this thing that our mothers and grandmothers created, and in the marketing of it we also have these symbols used to degrade us, degrade our culture. Now America is shifting, getting rid of those symbols, which is good." In that shift, Harper hopes that Black chefs, owners, and communities can be stewards and take ownership of that culture.
The name Queen Mother's is a nod to Harper's desire to, "put respect on the creators of our culture," by making food his mother and grandmother would feel good about and creating a business they would approve of. Harper says, "I want to lean into the beauty of our culture", and make food that is "really Black. We should be proud of fried chicken, it's such a powerful thing."
Queen Mother's is now located at 918 S Lincoln St, Arlington, VA 22204, and serves a rotating menu of local, cage-free, and antibiotic-free fried chicken sandwiches and sides. Initially, in the new location, Queen Mother's will open for lunch from 11 am to 2:30 pm Tuesday through Friday. Order online here.