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Martha Lou Gadsden (1930–2021), Lowcountry soul food icon

by Linnea Crowther

Martha Lou Gadsden was the owner of the iconic Charleston, South Carolina soul food restaurant Martha Lou’s Kitchen.

Making Lowcountry cuisine famous

After years of cooking at restaurants owned by others, Gadsden opened Martha Lou’s Kitchen in 1983 in a converted Charleston service station. There, she served a soul food that’s specific to the Lowcountry region of the South Carolina/Georgia coast. Gadsden’s specialties included beef stew with oxtails, chitterlings, okra soup, and her best-selling fried chicken. Over the years, Martha Lou’s Kitchen began attracting notice from foodies and tourists, and Gadsden’s reputation as a top soul food chef grew. The restaurant was featured in the New York Times and on TV’s “Top Five Restaurants” and “The Zimmern List.” Gadsden continued her work at Martha Lou’s Kitchen until the restaurant closed in September 2020 as the landlord sold the lot and the building was slated to be demolished.

Notable quote

“I work by air; I do not measure. I know what I want done but to give you the recipe I’ll have to just make up one because I know how I fix my food. And see everybody don’t do the same. See, I put a dash of this and a dash of that and a dash of that. And then I get it coming out my way.” —from a 2013 interview for Southern Foodways

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Tributes to Martha Lou Gadsden

Full obituary: The Post and Courier

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