"Most people want to say this is soul food," Minnie said. "I'd add that it's cooked with a lot of love."
Customers still order lots of the whiting fish, both as sandwiches or dinners. The fresh fish is coated in a mixture that Minnie said is a family recipe.
The restaurant caters to a family clientele who are served by the Leonard's own family members. "We don't have employees. We have family working here," Minnie said.
Son Robert Brown helps out when he's off-duty from his day job as a Charleston police officer. Daughter Michelle works the cash register and handles the bookkeeping. Her husband, Tyron Robinson, cooks. He also developed their barbecue sauce. Dorothy Johnson mans the grill, and "Jonsey" Juanita Jones waits on the weekend crowd. Fred Hicks, Tyron's father, fills in as needed as a cook.
"I come from a family of cooks," said Minnie, who was an only child. "Our door was always open. My father never cooked a piece of ham. He'd cook a whole ham."
Minnie left her social worker position in 1993 to concentrate on the family business. Dock retired two years ago from his 43-year career as a heavy equipment operator. "He said he never thought he'd do so much cooking after he retired," she said.
The Leonards still attend that church on Wertz Avenue that inspired their first culinary venture. Their ties are strong. Minnie was born in a house that stood on the church's current parking lot, and grew up down the street from it. She and Dock were married there and live on Wertz Avenue.
She introduced a customer at the bar -- he's a neighbor on Wertz Avenue and a regular at the South Charleston restaurant.
The Leonards Restaurant, 244 Seventh Ave., South Charleston, is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and closed on Sunday and Monday. Call 304-746-1105.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.