Gastonia restaurant serving soul food, new opportunities

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 7:04 PM EST
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GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) - Smith’s Soul Food Bistro is an up and coming restaurant in Gastonia, serving more than just soul food.

Smith’s grand opening is in January but they’re also launching a vocational program in February.

The six-month program is called “Champions Life Skills and Career Academy” or Champs.

For owner Cheryl Littlejohn, opening the restaurant was a second chance for her to establish her business and give back to others.

“If we can come together as a team and not only feed people but empower them and give them soft skills and trade that they can take back in the community and be successful,” Littlejohn said.

The program is geared toward people who, Littlejohn says, need a second chance in life, including ex-felons, the homeless or anybody looking to start over.

Throughout the program, they will train directly under ServSafe certified chefs where they will learn the basics of cooking food and food safety. In addition, they will learn the ins and outs of the hospitality business and other life skills.

In addition, Champs participants will have the ability to put their skills to the test and work with other local companies in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Champs is also partnering with the Gaston County Salvation Army to provide participants with housing, rental and utility assistance.

Executive Director John Mills said that stability is important when exploring new career opportunities.

“They can stay structured and stay focused to continue with Champs and go on to a better life,” Mills said.

As they prepare for their big debut they hope to not only make their mark with their mouthwatering food but the impact on several lives.

“When you give somebody an opportunity to do work and see what they can do, they have the confidence that they can go to another particular business and still be successful,” Littlejohn said.

Littlejohn is hoping to have 15 participants in their inaugural program.

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in the Champs program, call 704-915-6777 or email

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