A woman hangs out of a window, leaning over the edge to serve grits. On the other side of the window, the grits are cooked in small batches, with lots of cream, cheese, and hot sauce.
That’s the vision that Stephanie Fields had before she started Sugarfoot Grits. A southerner passionate about food, Fields came to Sugarfoot Grits with her favorite food and a great nickname. “Sugarfoot is a family nickname,” Fields says. “My uncle called me Sugarfoot when I worked in his restaurant. He gave me a lot of love.”
But before Fields was dreaming of corn, she was a long-time Mission Mercado shopper. The southern-style greens that she serves alongside her bowls of grits come from Blue House Farms, and she supports many farmers by stocking her personal kitchen with their produce. Now, Fields is taking on a new position at MCM––one behind the vendor table.
Sugarfoot Grits initially expressed interest in selling at MCM in 2013, before Fields was accepted to La Cocina program and expanded her business. “I wasn’t ready then,” Fields says. “But Emily [MCM's market manager] kept up with me and now, I’m ready.”
La Cocina is a San Francisco initiative based in the Mission District that works to give low-income women the tools that they need for success in the food industry.
To Fields, the support that came from La Cocina meant everything for her business. “I had decided that I was going to do the business no matter what,” Fields says. “But in retrospect, I’m not sure that I could have done it without [La Cocina's] help.” And the training that La Cocina gave behind the tent didn’t stop after Fields brought Sugarfoot Grits to market. “It’s about the general day to day support,” says Fields. “During my first outdoor festival they came and stood with me for my health inspection. Health inspections are scary––it’s like Mary Poppins checking the dust under everything,” she says, laughing. “It sounds boring, but that support means a lot.”
“I had decided that I was going to do the business no matter what. But in retrospect, I’m not sure that I could have done it without [La Cocina's] help.”
La Cocina also supported Fields through a “night market,” which was the first market that Fields had ever done. “We had a line of 20 people at all times,” she says. “It was crazy.”
But all of her work with La Cocina, as well as the plethora of pop-ups that she has done over the years, has armed Fields with the tools she needs to run a successful business––and the flavors she needs to make her grits delicious. Fields cooks her grits in small batches on-site, which means that each bowl is fresh and hot. The on-site cooking also serves as a demonstration for customers. “It makes it more interesting,” says Fields.
Fields’ corn grits are organic, and cooked with cream and cheese sourced locally. Fields tops the grits with more cheese, and southern-style greens, braised in apple-cider vinegar and with lots of added mushrooms. “I try to make it more vegetarian friendly,” Fields says. The mushrooms add savory-flavor to the grits and make them more hearty. But Fields’ grits aren’t only for vegetarians––she has pulled-pork, too, and plans on bringing chicken and dumplings to the market in future weeks. Other menu plans include sweet potato pies and a tomato-based soup with beef, lima beans, and corn.
Perhaps the flavors in her grits are welcoming because they don’t come from a traditional kitchen. “I have no culinary training,” Fields says, “I started cooking for myself for real after college.” During that time, Fields says that she was “cooking lots and lots of vegetables and couscous.”
“I learned about food then,” Fields notes. Then, in 2012, grits became her signature dish. “Grits are my favorite food,” she says. “I started bringing cheese grits to parties, and I started having pop-ups.”
Fields’ food is more than a warm bowl––to her, grits are a connection to her home and family. “I cooked grits growing up,” she says. “I’m from North Carolina, and [the grits] connect me to my family and cultural lineage. The South has a rich but difficult history. This is a positive way to connect with people.” And, Fields notes, laughing “In San Francisco, being from the South makes me special.”
“I’m from North Carolina, and [the grits] connect me to my family and cultural lineage. The South has a rich but difficult history. This is a positive way to connect with people.”
Now, Fields has a chance to bring her favorite food to a new audience. “I spend most of my time in the Mission District,” she says, “and I’m just glad to be in the neighborhood.” And so far, that audience has welcomed Sugarfoot Grits with open arms. “I had one lady who was really sweet, who said ‘welcome to the neighborhood,’” Fields says. “That made my day.”