Featured photo: Right now, Alexis Hefney’s business is based out of a local community kitchen, but soon, she’ll be moving Ava’s Cuisine into the old Iron Hen location. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

A new business will soon be opening at the old Iron Hen location in Greensboro.

For the last two years, the once-popular restaurant located off of Cridland Road near Latham Park, had been closed in the wake of the pandemic. Now, a new restaurant and catering business owned by a Black woman is moving in.

Alexis Hefney has been in the food business for around four years now after attending UNCG for a biology degree. For a short while afterwards, Hefney taught at Dudley High School but says she eventually decided to follow her passion for cooking.

“I’ve always hosted family dinners, and I started to branch out,” Hefney says.

After Hefney had her daughter Ava, she started a food business that she named after her only child and Ava’s Cuisine and Catering was born. Initially Hefney started with a food truck and then ventured into catering events for local businesses and weddings. She had waitressed through college so knew how to work customer service and run a seamless front-of-house operation.

Right now, Hefney is based out of City Kitch, a local community kitchen, but soon, she’ll be moving Ava’s Cuisine into the old Iron Hen location.

“We have a lot of people walking by,” Hefney says. “Everyone in the area has been supportive.”

Alexis Hefney named her business after her daughter, who helps her out in the kitchen from time to time. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Using some family recipes, Hefney focuses on creating well-crafted, delicious soul food. Some signature items include fried chicken, mac and cheese — a recipe passed down from her Grandmother Rose, collard greens and yams; all things that she’s used to cooking for her family. She’ll have vegan and vegetarian options too, something she’s learned to add to her repertoire after getting requests through catering.

“I’m not vegan, but the only reason why we decided to offer vegan options is we do a lot of wedding and corporate events, and more people are moving vegetarian.”

Some plant-based options include a lasagna, “hamburger” steak and macaroni and cheese.

“People can’t even tell that they’re vegan,” Hefney says.

To come up with her recipes, Hefney says she draws inspiration from ideas she sees on the Food Channel as well as trying to create her own version of popular restaurant meals. For example, she offers her own version of the Ruth’s Chris stuffed chicken.

“A lot of those recipes are like chemistry,” Hefney says. “Food is like chemistry because you have to add a lot of seasoning, water to make it right. A lot of it ends up being off the top of my head.”

Her favorite item on the menu is the pulled pork.

“It’s hard to find pulled pork,” Hefney says. “It’s smoky, it has a good texture. We make our own barbecue sauce; it’s kind of vinegar based, but it has a sweet tangy side to it as well.”

Ava, now five, also helps out around the kitchen.

“She is essentially a boss baby,” Hefney says. “She takes pride in knowing that something is named after her. She’s a big inspiration for me; she’s the reason why I started Ava’s Cuisine to give her a better quality of life after teaching. She definitely is hands on when I cook at home.”

One of the specialties at Ava’s Cuisine is the stuffed chicken which is a take on Ruth’s Chris’ entree. (courtesy photo)

In terms of the location, Hefney says it’s been a process but the logistics fell into place towards the end of last year. 

“I think the biggest thing I tell myself is that when something is for you, it’s for you,” Hefney says. “We found [the location] in November online. I wasn’t really looking for it, but I decided to follow up on it. It really just fell in my lap.”

Since then, she’s been at the location almost every day working on adding her own touches to the interior. The plan, she says, is to open in August.

While the brick-and-mortar location won’t have table service, customers will be able to walk in and order food to-go, kind of like a deli. She’ll also continue catering, using the space’s kitchen to fulfill orders.

Once the business is open, Hefney says she’d like to give back by partnering with local homeless-advocacy organizations as well as connecting with both UNCG and NC A&T State University so students can access her food.

“Me being an alumni, I definitely want to accept SpartanCash and Aggie Dollars so students can come get good food too,” Hefney says. “A lot of times these students miss home-cooked food.”

As the grand opening date grows nearer, Hefney says she’s excited to grow her business.

“Everybody has been very welcoming,” she says. “We’re looking forward to the great things we can bring to the neighborhood and surrounding area.”

What happened to the Iron Hen?

As Triad City Beat reported in the past, the owner of Iron Hen, Lee Comer, has faced allegations of racism and financial incompetence in the last few years. 

In 2018 and 2019, TCB reported that the “restaurateur recently became the target of wide-ranging allegations of racial discrimination and other labor violations in the wake of a mass staff exodus.” 

Comer opened the Iron Hen and her catering company in 2010.

In addition to being the owner of Iron Hen, Comer was also briefly the owner of the Morehead Foundry, located near the southwest corner of the Downtown Greenway. Comer opened the foundry in 2016. The refurbished building included kitchen space for Fresh. Local. Good Food Group’s catering service, along with Four Flocks and Larder, Revolution Burger, the Baker & the Bean and Hush speakeasy. The whole complex has been vacant for the last several years, much like Iron Hen.

As reported by TCB, Comer had secured a $375,000 loan from the city of Greensboro in 2015 after Comer agreed to invest $3.2 million to and to create 29 new full-time jobs and 61 part-time jobs paying at or above Guilford County’s living wage of $9.12 per hour. However, follow-up reporting in 2019 found that Comer owed more than $260,000 in payments for an economic parking lot loan for the foundry.

According to Comer’s Facebook posts, she now runs an online catering business called Sirvve. An email to the city asking about Comer’s outstanding loan payments went unanswered.

Learn more about Ava’s Cuisine and Catering at avascuisineandcatering.com or follow them on social media @avas.cuisine.llc

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