Restaurateur, designer and former model B. Smith diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

Barbara Smith shows off some of the dishes at her Washington restaurant, B. Smith’s, in 2002. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

If you’ve passed through Washington D.C.’s Union Station anytime in the past 20 or so years, you’ve probably encountered B. Smith’s restaurant.

The soul food fixture, which closed last year, was nestled in prime real estate, just to the right as you walked through the main entrance. Its owner, former model and restaurateur Barbara Smith, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, according to an exclusive interview with CBS News.

Gail Rutter and Chef Barbara Smith mix ingredients at her Union Station restaurant, B Smith, in Washington, DC in 2007. (Kevin Clark/ The Washington Post)

Smith has eponymous restaurants in New York City and Sag Harbor, N.Y., which remain open. She was one of the first black models to grace the cover of Mademoiselle, in July 1976. She is a renaissance woman not unlike Martha Stewart. As Jonathan O’Connell of Capital Business reported:

Her 1995 book ‘’B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends,’’ was one of the first on entertaining by a black author. She sells a collection of home goods through Bed Bath & Beyond, acts in off-Broadway shows and co-hosts a weekly SiriusXM Radio program called the “B. Smith and ‘Thank You Dan’ Show.”

Chef Barbara Smith at her Union Station restaurant, B Smith, in Washington, DC in 2007. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post) Chef Barbara Smith at her Union Station restaurant, B Smith, in Washington, DC in 2007. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post)

Smith, 64, did the Sirius show, which has since been canceled, with her husband Dan Gasby. She has her own line of olive oils, and she designs jewelry too. She had a lifestyle magazine a year before Oprah launched hers. There’s not much Smith can’t tackle. She cut a vibrant, energetic figure in her nationally syndicated television show, “B. Smith With Style,” but in the CBS interview, Smith appeared wan, though lucid. She told her doctor four years ago that she was having problems repeating things and answering questions before she told her husband.

In 1999, the New York Times described Smith’s considerable influence:

”Her restaurants are the black ’21′ clubs, the places to see and be seen,” says Lawrence Otis Graham, author of ”Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class.” ”People know that if they go there, they’re going to run into the right people, the black folks you know from the Links and the Boule and Jack and Jill,” the exclusive black clubs. When Graham was researching his book, he found that ”everybody knew her restaurant. Everybody watched her show.”

The CBS interview will air June 15 on “CBS Sunday Morning.” When the network’s medical correspondent, Jon LaPook, talked to Smith, she didn’t know the month, date or year. With tears welling in her eyes, she told LaPook, “Things like that make me very sad.”

Alzheimer’s affects more than five million Americans.

“I think the future’s going to be fine,” she said. “I’m going to do my best to make it work out for me and for as many people as I can possibly help, too.”

h/t Always A-List

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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