From gospel to grub

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One month after Judaea Butler started working at Quynh Trinh's Global Grub Collective in East Atlanta, she told her mother Wanda about it.

"I had just lost my parents," Wanda Nero Butler recalls. "I was complaining and kind of heartbroken that my father didn't have his affairs in order and didn't leave us anything. That's when I heard my father's voice say, ???I left you that burger!'?۝

Indeed, Wanda's father had perfected a burger recipe back in Detroit, where the family comes from, at his restaurant Landmark Soul Food Caf̩. Wanda and her daughter Judaea brought the recipe to Atlanta and have been serving up that very same burger at their Global Grub Collective stall, Kiss My Bunz, since they opened last fall.

Wanda credits Trinh for the ease with which she was able to start the business, noting that the collective is the "best, most awesome idea ever" for aspiring entrepreneurs. Each business owner gets to choose their own hours and make their own schedule, and Wanda relishes the sense of community between the Collective's vendors.

While the Papa Burger honors Wanda's past, her newest creation, the cornbread burger, looks to the present. Two house-made cornbread flapjacks serve as a bun, piled with a choice of beef, turkey, salmon or avocado veggie patty, saut̩ed mushrooms, cheese, bell peppers and onions. Oh yeah, and then the whole thing is smothered in chili, jalapenos, barbeque sauce or gravy. "People are going crazy for it," Wanda says with a laugh.

Back in Detroit, Wanda ran a similar food kiosk inside a flea market. She relocated to Decatur 11 years ago, bringing her burger skills but adapting them to fit her new home. The cornbread burger pays homage to the South, while the house-made veggie patty and salmon option were designed to appeal specifically to her Global Grub clientele, whom she describes as "health conscious." This hasn't stopped her from churning out fresh desserts daily, however, including seasonal summer offerings like her mother's peach cobbler.

While making food is all but second nature to Wanda, her original passion lies in music. During the late '80s, she honed a successful career as a gospel singer, performing and directing with celebrities like Patti LaBelle and Tyler Perry. Her first album, Reach for His Love, was released in 1987. Since then she's continued recording and even started her own label, WNB Records. She says she still sometimes hears her old tracks played Sunday mornings on Atlanta's MyPraise radio station.

It was gospel that initially brought Wanda, her minister husband and three daughters to Decatur back in 2006 when she took a position as music director for a church. The gig didn't last long, but Wanda decided to stay with the church. "I landed among some really, really loving people," she says. "It's a very open, LGBT-affirming congregation that believes that all religions are paths to God."

Today, Wanda leads a group that sings at retirement homes and hospitals, but finds a large part of her spirituality in the act of cooking. "I cook because I love it!" she says. Someday, she hopes to combine her talents by opening a dinner theater.?۝

Until then, you can find Wanda and her burgers Tuesdays through Fridays from noon to 3:30 p.m. at the Global Grub Collective. Just be sure to wear something stretchy.

Kiss My Bunz at the Global Grub Collective. 477 Flat Shoals Ave., 678-618-3993.[]

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