2022 Tastemakers: Sadaya Lewis of Modern Southern Table

The owner of Modern Southern Table in Budd Dairy Food Hall is giving Columbus a masterclass in seasoning and culture, celebrating Southern delicacies from Geechee red rice to Alabama fried chicken.

Donna Marbury
Sadaya “Daisy” Lewis, the chef and funder of Modern Southern Table, at Budd Dairy Food Hall

Soul food is the pinnacle of American cuisine, and Sadaya “Daisy” Lewis, owner of Modern Southern Table, is giving Columbus a masterclass in seasoning and culture, celebrating Southern delicacies from Geechee red rice to Alabama fried chicken. Since opening at Budd Dairy Food Hall in 2021, MST has served as a love letter to Lewis’ upbringing in Cleveland and visits to see her family in the South.

Food for the Soul

Columbus has always needed a stronger soul food culture, Lewis says. She noticed the lack of options as soon as she arrived at Ohio State University as a freshman in 1995.

“My college roommate will tell you, I started looking [for soul food] from the moment I got off the bus,” she says. The options for Black restaurants were scarce in Columbus, so Lewis started cooking for hungry dormmates on special occasions.

“We would have Valentine’s Day and Christmas dinners—I would literally cook for the whole floor. It was really just me showcasing what I can do, and [it] became serious,” Lewis says.

Fried catfish with blackeye pea salad and chicken and sausage gumbo at Modern Southern Table

A Family Tradition

Growing up in Cleveland, Lewis watched her cousin Greg Beckham manage several B&M Bar-B-Que restaurants, which were started by his father in the 1950s.

“Cooking was in my blood, but I didn’t understand it at the time in college,” Lewis says. “I knew that my cousin worked so hard, and it was a hard industry. I didn’t know if I wanted to enter. But it was calling me all the time,” she says.

The Right Time

After earning an MBA from Capital University and working in finance, Lewis waited for the opportunity to launch her business. She was catering on the side and, after encouragement from her husband, decided to take the business more seriously in 2005.

Recipe:Sadaya Lewis’ Cornbread is Just a Touch Sweet

After winning The Food Network’s Food Court Wars in 2014, offers to open a restaurant started pouring in. The win felt like a precursor to her relationship with Budd Dairy, operated by Cameron Mitchell Restaurants.

“I chose soul food because this was the closest [cuisine] for my heritage, my family,” Lewis says. “I also feel there is a need here in Columbus. I thought it would be the best foot forward.”

Setting the Next Table

“Everybody thinks I only do soul food, but I do other cuisines and dishes,” says Lewis, who is tight-lipped about her next move but mentioned Jamaican and barbecue as favorites. “I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. I want to bring multiple concepts to Columbus,” Lewis says.

Chicken and sausage gumbo at Modern Southern Table

Modern Southern Table

1086 N. Fourth St. (inside Budd Dairy Food Hall), Italian Village, 614-505-2637

About Sadaya Lewis

Age: 44

Hometown: Cleveland

Soundtrack while she cooks: “Prince, vinyl records only”

Always in her pantry: Molasses and dark brown sugar

Go-to Columbus spot: Hoyo’s Kitchen

What makes Columbus’ food scene unique: “Columbus is strong in ethnic- and Black-owned restaurants now.”

Reading recommendation: “Patti LaBelle’s or Maya Angelou’s cookbooks. I read cookbooks like Bibles.”

Sadaya Lewis is one of nine “Tastemakers” profiles in the August 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.