Gadsden, pictured a decade ago | Josh Curry file photo

Martha Lou Gadsden, Southern soul food matriarch and owner of the iconic Martha Lou’s Kitchen, has died at the age of 91. Gadsden died Thursday morning, her oldest daughter Joyce Taylor told Live 5 News

Gadsden led the Morrison Drive restaurant for 37 years, before permanently closing its doors in September 2020. Gadsden recovered from COVID-19 and heart surgery in 2020, The Post and Courier reports, and she celebrated her 91st birthday on Saturday, March 27. The cause of her death has not yet been disclosed. 

Gadsden, a mother of nine, worked in the restaurant industry for years before opening Martha Lou’s Kitchen, a bright pink, converted service station that served no-frills Southern fare such as fried chicken, pork chops, lima beans, cornbread and more.

“I was a bus girl at a restaurant on Spring Street growing up. My mother was the cook there,” she told the City Paper in 2011.

Martha Lou’s closed last year | City Paper file photo

The acclaimed chef was featured many times on the Food Network, in The New York Times and on the cover of the Charleston City Paper in 2011, the week of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. In March 2020, an event included Gadsden’s restaurant and other soul food mainstays on a sold out “Soul Stroll” bus tour. 

Plans for the 1068 Morrison Dr. space that used to house Gadsden’s restaurant and her portrait that was hand-painted on the side of the building have not been announced, but a September 2020 Post and Courier story reported the landmark building would be demolished. The property, which Gadsden rented, was sold in October 2020 for $2 million, according to county records, and large-scale construction is underway nearby.