Evangeline Cole-Thompson, Anacostia’s queen of soul food, has died at 58.
“Mama Cole,” as she was known, died Tuesday at the Washington Home and Hospice after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer, said Anthony Motley, a family friend.
In 2002, she opened Cole’s Cafe at 1918 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE with her husband. They had previously run a carry-out down the street until a runaway van smashed into the kitchen. But the couple rebuilt their business, operating one of Ward 8’s few sit-down restaurants.
Post food critic Walter Nicholls had this to say about Cole’s eats in 2007: “Her fried whiting is lightly seasoned and not the slightest bit greasy to the touch. Those who like sweet, sticky yams with a blast of cinnamon have come to the right place, and her greens are fresh-tasting and mellow.” (You can recreate her banana pudding at home.)
”The Lord blessed me with the ability to cook,” she told Nicholls.
The restaurant was known for its good food, but also its good heart. The Post’s Allan Lengel profiled it in 2004:
[A]ppreciative customers at Cole’s Cafe regularly shout out “Mom!” when they see owner Evangeline Cole-Thompson.
Mama Cole, as she’s known, reciprocates in many ways: freely dispensing hugs and kisses, dishing out personal advice and giving neighborhood kids free meals for good report cards.
One recent afternoon, first-time customer Giles Brown ordered fried fish — but made the mistake of revealing that his doctor told him to refrain from fried food.
“Uh-uh,” Cole-Thompson said from behind the counter. “You ain’t getting no fried food!”
Eventually, Brown got his way after he said that he does not eat meat and that he needed a meal.
But next time, Cole-Thompson said, Brown “will not get fried food. I told him, ‘From now on, you call me ahead of time, and I’ll bake you some fish.’ “
In 2007, Cole-Thompson’s husband, William Thompson, suffered a paralyzing stroke, and she fell behind on her bills for the restaurant. Her customers rallied to her support, and she got advice from a fellow restaurateur: “Stop giving so much away. You can’t make it like that.”
But she found it hard to tamp down her generosity, and Cole’s closed in 2008. Cole-Thompson continued to cater community events until stricken with cancer, Motley said.
She is survived by nine children, Motley said — four biological and five adopted. Farewell services are planned for Tuesday at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church; a wake is set for 10 a.m., a funeral service for noon.
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