Fortune Southern Opens Barbie-Q in Encino

Cleveland-style—who knew?

Fortune Southern’s earliest memories in the kitchen were the large holiday parties her parents used to host when she was growing up in Cleveland. They’d serve over 100 guests, and Southern would try her best to be her mom’s sous chef. It wasn’t until she got to college that she got a rhythm for it. And it wasn’t until last November that Southern opened a place of her own: Barbie-Q restaurant in Encino.

“The food that I have on my menu is what stuck out to me and what I liked the most,” says Fortune, 33.

Her menu is an amalgamation of her family’s recipes, her own creations and nods to her hometown. Barbie-Q features smoked and grilled meats like baby back ribs and pulled pork, all tied together by her grandmother’s secret sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce recipe. Her mac ‘n’ cheese and baked beans are just like she had as a kid.

“At that point, I decided I had two choices: I could either give up and lose everything I had worked for, or go ahead and take that leap and transfer into a restaurant, which was my dream.”

And then there’s the Cleveland staple: the Polish Boy, a kielbasa stuffed into a toasted hoagie, covered in fries, coleslaw and barbecue sauce. She also makes her own twist; the Polish Girl is stacked high with sweet potato fries, slaw and maple aioli.

“I actually get a lot of customers coming in from Cleveland just to get the Polish Boy,” Fortune says.

Up until this point, Fortune had been operating a food truck with her mother, Susan Southern, for years. She says it wasn’t an easy feat for a Black woman in a male-dominated space. But she paid her dues and eventually found her footing. 

Then she hit a bump in the road. All the events she had lined up with her truck got canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At that point, I decided I had two choices: I could either give up and lose everything I had worked for, or go ahead and take that leap and transfer into a restaurant, which was my dream,” Fortune says.

She launched Barbie-Q with her husband, Adam DiMuzio, who previously operated his own food truck. Her mother, who’s now 63, still helps out a little. And Fortune says business has been “really, really good.”

“Every day I show up to this restaurant, whether I’m in a good mood (or not), I’ll take time to thank God, because I have to look back to where I came from and the steps that were taken to get here. It feels like a miracle,” Fortune says. 

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