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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

< Back to Oral History project: Ya-Ka-Mein in New Orleans


Lucinda & Frank Mitchell

Mitchell’s Fruit Stand

Lucinda Mitchell grew up at the fruit stand positioned outside Charity Hospital that she ultimately wound up running with her husband, Frank. The stand, and the vending permit that came with it, originated with Lucinda’s aunt, Lucinda Moss, who raised her from the age of four or five after Lucinda’s mother passed away. Frank worked various jobs over the years to supplement their income, but it was mostly profits from the fruit stand that allowed them to raise seven children comfortably.

While they took pride in always having the freshest, sun-warmed produce, Mitchell’s was more than just a fruit stand. They also prepared and sold hot food: po-boys made with shrimp fresh from the docks, hamburgers that had marinated in spices, hand-cut French fries, ya-ka-mein.

Lucinda describes ya-ka-mein as an African American dish, popular because it could be made quickly and on the cheap. Yet, the beef ya-ka-mein she sold from the stand required days of preparation. She might have sold it for a pittance (in the interview, Frank and Lucinda dispute what it used to cost), but she used quality beef, worried over her broth as vigilantly as you would over a roux gumbo, and showered each portion with handfuls of freshly sliced green onions. Don’t even try to get the exact recipe—deep family secret, that.

The Mitchells lost their vendor permit in the confusing bureaucracy that followed—and, in some cases, still follows—on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. For a while they parked a food truck outside a different hospital, and they briefly operated a restaurant in New Orleans East, but neither business plan stuck. Today they are reluctant retirees and passionate fishermen, hoping for a day when they might serve ya-ka-mein to the masses again.

Date of interview:

Sara Roahen

Sara Roahen

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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