By the time Chef Lucille Bishop Smith, owner of Smith’s Cafeteria on Evans Avenue in Fort Worth, was born, slavery had just ended 27 years prior in her home state of Texas.

As a teen, the future Fort Worthian was then embarrassed that her father would pile mounds of produce and luscious fruits on the bed of his old pickup truck and deliver it to what is now Huston-Tillotson University, the Austin college she and her siblings attended, in exchange for their college tuition.

Thanks to his ingenious bartering system, the produce would not only pay their way through school but also feed hundreds of hungry students. It was here on this campus that she would meet her soon-to-be husband, Ulysses “U.S.” Samuel Smith, a strong supporter of Lucille’s fiery independent personality and a food connoisseur himself. 

If his name sounds familiar, you may remember him more commonly as “U.S.,” an equally successful Fort Worth chef and pitmaster of the North Side’s old favorite, U.S. Smith’s Famous Bar-B-Q, known for his deliciously smoky barbecued meats. 

After marrying, the two young food connoisseurs hurriedly relocated to Fort Worth, Texas. 

Dish with Deah

For more about Deah Mitchell or the Dish with Deah columns, click here.

Smith, then just 23 years old, was beginning to find her niche as a respected caterer in the food service industry of her new city. She developed a fondness for French cuisine and always set her dining room table with grace and formality when she entertained friends and family. 

Fort Worth was a stark contrast from the Piney Woods of Crockett, Texas, where she was born and raised. Despite the racial turmoil of the day, she was able to succeed in the most fantastically peculiar way. Described by her granddaughter, Mrs. Patricia Williams of Houston, as having an “incredible work ethic and responsibility to serve,” Lucille’s tenacity helped her gain employment in the segregated Fort Worth school district as coordinator of the vocational education program.

While there, she designed the curriculum and instructed on what she knew best – food. Williams, also an awarded educator, recalls a quote her beloved grandmother would constantly instill in her loved ones, “As long as you know how to cook, you’ll always have a job.” 

The Smiths settled into life in Fort Worth with ease as Lucille worked as a seamstress and cook for a private clientele. A chance encounter during one of her catered events led to both she and Ulysses “U.S.” almost 50-year tenure managing the kitchen and staff for the uber-exclusive summer camp for girls, Camp Waldemar, located in the Hill Country near Hunt. 

Later, Smith was recruited to create one of the nation’s first collegiate commercial food and technology training programs for instructors and professors to teach students of what is now Prairie View A&M University, located northwest of Houston.

While juggling these three careers in the food industry, she published her first cookbook, “Lucille’s Treasure Chest of Fine Foods,” a collection of recipes sold in a keepsake treasure box that to date has gone on to become a valuable collector item. To say that Smith was on fire would be an understatement because she was just beginning her steady climb to become a phenomenon in not just Fort Worth history but staking her rightful claim in American history as well. 

Shortly after creating the curriculum for Prairie View, Smith was tasked with fundraising for her church, St. Andrews United Methodist, located in the Historic Southside. World War II was ending, causing a sudden surge of prepared foods in the United States. More men away at war caused a sharp rise in women joining the workforce, leaving little time for cooking homemade dinners from scratch daily.

Convenience foods were now a necessity required in the kitchen. Smith had the novel idea of creating a dry goods mix complete with instructions to bake her famous fresh rolls that her catering clients loved. The prepared hot roll mix was an “instant” (pun intended) success that soon catapulted Smith to freshly baked infamy.

Over the next few weeks, “Lucille’s All Purpose Hot Roll Mix” raised a whopping $800, which would be equivalent today to $9,692. Driven by the constant desire to serve, she donated every dollar to St. Andrews Church. Orders soon began pouring in for this first-of-its-kind instant bread mix. In this world of pre-Pillsbury’s now popular instant mix, consumers were wildly appreciative of this type of product that not only created her delicious quick bread but over 20 other recipes could be made from one pre-measured kit.

Grocers soon began selling her 14-ounce boxes, and before long another famous Fort Worth business, American Airlines, called Smith with an opportunity she could not refuse. The aviation giant offered to partner with her to secure her famous “chili biscuits,” the recipe that earned her favor with many high-profile diners, for their hungry passengers. Although Smith was excited about the success of her burgeoning business, she was admittedly overwhelmed by the prospect of cooking and baking such a large-scale production in her home kitchen.

She attempted to acquire a loan, but because of discriminatory banking practices, she was unable to secure one.  Without a loan, her dream of building a large production site would not become a reality. Ever the savvy businesswoman, Chef Lucille persisted in her quest for entrepreneurship and did not let competition sway her. Her dream kitchen may not have materialized, but Chef Lucille did not let this deter her success. 

Along with her many other accomplishments, she was the first food editor for a local Fort-Worth-based magazine for Black Americans called “Sepia,” was known as the first African American businesswoman, in an official capacity to legally file business documentation for her company. In 1966 Fort Worth recognized April 28 as “Lucille B. Smith Day.” First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was also a friend and had the pleasure of feasting on Lucille’s spectacular meals.

Although Smith died Jan. 12, 1985, her impressive legacy continues through her direct bloodline. Among them is award-winning Chef Chris Williams, who in 2012 opened the wildly successful restaurant Lucille’s in Houston, Texas, along with his brother and entrepreneur in his own right, Ben Williams, both Smith’s great-grandchildren. Additionally, Chef Chris, now a multi-restaurant owner, also founded a nonprofit, Lucille’s 1913, whose collective mission of helping feed the underserved populations in Houston and increasing job training opportunities is obviously a beautiful family trait he has eagerly embodied.

Deah Mitchell writes about more than food. You can email her at

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, by following our guidelines.

Deah Berry Mitchell

Deah Berry Mitchell

Deah Berry Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Nostalgia Black Group, a multimedia company whose core business is preserving Black cultural history through writing, public speaking, tourism and technology....