By: Annalisa Francesca Ciro
You’ve found ‘Miss New Foodie,’ a new column composed by Annalisa Francesca Ciro where she sheds a little light on local eateries.
VINELAND, N.J. — Determined to remedy the soul food drought in Cumberland County, Taste Buds has fought their way to become one of the best soul food spots in South Jersey. With dishes ranging from sultry shrimp and grits to luxurious mac and cheese bowls, Taste Buds packs in flavor as bold as their blazing red building.
Cousins Donald Bristow and Darryl McDuffie Jr. have explored their affinity for cooking since grade school. With
lifelong dreams of becoming a chef, Donald began experimenting with food at the buoyant age of ten, while Darryl navigated the nuances of the food service industry by helping out on his uncle’s BBQ-themed food truck throughout his childhood. Their combined culinary background and entrepreneurial spirit found an outlet about three years ago with the genesis of Taste Buds.
The duo anointed the restaurant with the catchphrase “Where Life Tastes Better,” a resounding claim that is bolstered by the zest of their dishes. Taste Buds offers home-cooked classics integral to soul food cuisine. The menu is comprised of meals that are missing from the local community’s food scene; from Hennessy mac bowls to chicken and waffles to turkey chops, customers travel from out of town to get their hands on these robust eats served in humble take-out containers.
Each dish is cooked with a mindfulness that is apparent as soon as the flavors greet your taste buds. The cornbread is sweet, fluffy, and airy all at once; the greens, savory and juicy; and the saucy shrimp is buttery with a kick that is both light and hearty.
“It’s the best soul food in the area,” says Monica Gross, a Vineland resident and a regular at this hometown spot. “I would recommend it to everyone.”
But the road to their present accomplishments was not easy.
Donald and Darryl’s first joint partnership came to them five years ago in the form of a franchise Brazilian BBQ food truck on the spirited streets of University City in West Philadelphia. While the cousins thrived in the Fresh Prince’s hometown, they aspired to become their own bosses and open a restaurant with a menu inspired by the comforting home-cooked meals their mothers and grandmothers fed them as children.
When the opportunity arose to establish their own business in the Pink Plaza in Vineland around three years ago, they seized the moment and braced themselves for the demanding stretch that naturally accompanies a family-owned restaurant in its liminal stages.
“I’m all for ownership, but you can’t just open a business and think it’s going to be booming the next day,” said Donald. “But whatever we get out of the business is what we put into the
“There were a lot of tough days. We’ve been in this area for three years and we still, to this day, hear people who come to us and say ‘We didn’t even know you guys were here,’” said Darryl. “It would get to the point where we
would be like ‘Dag, bro…how are we gonna keep on doing this?’ But thank God for the perseverance and for grinding it out. By the grace of God, we were able to pick up business and from there we just kept pushing on.”
As young, black business owners, the odds are stacked against them. Though their skills and their passion are undoubtable, it was a viral Facebook post by a woman who loved their food — one and a half years after Taste Buds opened — that helped propel business forward. Since then, they have moved to a new and more accessible location on Landis and Delsea, and their clientele has grown exponentially.
Eternally grateful for that fateful Facebook miracle, the cousins are dedicated to giving back to the local community who have supported them, kept them afloat, and helped them follow their dreams. They are eager to continue their charitable coat giveaway tradition (which they initiated last year), along with building new traditions of feeding families for Thanksgiving, contributing school supplies for local students, and providing more jobs for people in the area as their business expands.
Donald and Darryl’s continued success has proven to themselves that all the long nights, tears, frustration, and time spent apart from their families is finally paying off. Coupled with the support of the community, the dedication of these young men allowed them to surmount the crippling barriers that often plague small business owners — especially small business owners of color — in Cumberland County (and across the nation). Theirs is a story of commendable grit, and they hope to serve as mentors for children in the community.
“Just being two young African Americans that actually own a business […] just being those role models for people to look at and be like ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’ you know, to us that means a lot,” said Darryl. “Just continuing to push through and be the examples we want to set for our kids, for our nephews, and for the younger generation to be able to look up to and see young African Americans doing positive things — we’re showing people a different path.”
Taste Buds is located on 22 West Landis Avenue in Vineland, and they offer delivery, dine-in, and take-out Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. They can be reached at (856) 362-5787; orders can be placed by phone or online via Seamless, DoorDash, or Grubhub; and they can be found on Facebook and on Instagram at @tastebudseats.