Makhenda, “loving and compassionate”

Meet Harlene Summers. We’re writing a story on her restaurant for TasteFresno.

Harlene is a middle name—her first name comes from her father, who wanted a son. But soon she’ll be legally known as Makhenda, a name given to Harlene by elders of a tribe in Congo.

I first learned of Harlene’s restaurant through Groupon; I rarely open emails advertising discounts at locally owned businesses, but several weeks back one arrived offering a special at Makhenda’s Girls. First thought: “Is this a Groupon for an escort service?” (Serious question.)

Of course I opened, eventually clicking through to discover a restaurant with a menu boasting flavors—a “taste explosion,” even—from the Deep South. Okay, I’m listening.

My first taste included brisket, sweet potatoes, greens and cornbread; the food was charmingly delicious. On the second trip, I tried the fried catfish. So good it reminded me of home.

On the third visit, I hovered around the smoker next to the house restaurant, listening as Harlene told stories of growing up and cooking in the South. She smiled the entire time.

According to Harlene, the name Makhenda means “loving and compassionate.” Fitting for a woman surrounded by family (I’ve counted four generations at the restaurant), who cooks to raise money for missions work.

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