“No way they’re coming here,” Souseman Larry, born Larry Reaves, says under his breath.
The Souseman was midway through telling his life story before spying a couple out of the corner of his eye. He then sat back in his chair, perched on his porch like a king on his throne. Fresh from California, the couple beelines right to his stoop, which serves as the de facto order counter, and asks for chicken souse, pork souse and a spaghetti dinner.
“We got to check it out,” Dustin said of the decision to come by Souseman’s home. He and his partner, Emily, were visiting from San Francisco and had seen Souseman’s story on Netflix’s “Street Food: USA.”
Such has been Souseman’s life since the episode’s release in August. Customers from as far as Switzerland have traveled to his quaint Opa-locka home, also known as World Famous Souseman Soulfood, just to sample his legendary souse, a vinegary, citrusy stew dish made with chicken or pork that has become a Black Miami staple. Like many aspects of Black food, the dish has roots in European cuisine and slavery.
“One of the things that we’ve always done historically as Black folks is remix the food based on what we had access to,” said Nadege Green, founder of Black Miami-Dade, a history and storytelling platform.
For Black Americans and Caribbeans, the pig — more specifically what was left of the pig — was that animal and in Miami souse was the dish of choice. A 1949 advertisement for Port’s Grill, a restaurant in modern day Overtown, sold souse for 35 cents, a far cry from Reaves’ cost of $15 per cup.
In terms of ingredients, pork souse can sometimes include ears, feet and even the tail, according to Reaves.
“It’s a dish that came through the family for years,” Reaves said. From graduations to birthday parties, souse was a standard dish at any and every party, he added. “To me, it’s a staple of the culture.”
That has made him arguably the most sought-after souse specialist in South Florida. Customers throughout the North Dade area are especially partial to the man they simply call “Souseman.”
“It’s him, it’s the home vibe,” said Rodericka Moore, a longtime customer. She added that Reaves has been her souseman for years, having followed him from before he was serving out of his home. “He has welcomed us, very family-oriented, great customer service with everybody.“
Reaves’ choice to serve out of his home is common in Black Miami, where the cost of opening a restaurant can’t compete with selling plates from the comfort of one’s kitchen. For many, it’s a tradition, says Green.
“The underground food economy has always existed in Black communities,” Green added. “When you think about accessibility, when you think about what is easy to make and what you can turn a profit on, it’s food.”
‘What about souse?’
Although Reaves wouldn’t give away any secret ingredients, it’s safe to say that his recipe is divine. The way he described getting the recipe is straight out of a T.D. Jakes sermon.
“This voice came to me and was saying ‘souse,’ ” Reaves said. “As it was saying souse, I was saying, ‘What about souse? What about souse?’ Then the spirit said ‘If you do what I tell you to do with it and make it the same way I tell you to make it every time, you’ll never have to work for another man in your life.’ “
That moment came almost a year after Reaves nearly overdosed on cocaine. In a past life, Reaves was an admitted “functioning addict” and drug dealer for nearly 15 years. Then came a chance at rebirth.
“A bright white light look like he came out the ceiling and as I’m standing up under this bright, white light my spirit begins to leave my body,” Reaves recalled of his overdose. At the time, Reaves was hunched over in the bathroom, unable to control his bowels. So he did the only thing he knew: pray. “AlI could say was ‘Lord, not like this. Don’t take me like this.’ ”
What came next was a period of both spiritual and emotional healing. His cocaine addiction had alienated him from his family, specifically his eight children, and he had to repair those relationships. Reaves recalled hearing a voice around this time that would instruct him to say things to certain people. That same voice later gave him the souse ingredients.
“It also told me to pray over it as I clean it and pray over it once it’s done so that the people can be blessed by it,” Reaves said, a practice that continues to this day.
At the time, Reaves was working as a security guard at Miami Dade College North Campus. His colleagues were having a get-together so he took that first pot to them. It was gone almost as soon as he got there. Somebody said he should start selling it and, soon after, he did. First on the corner of Northwest 199th Street and 27th Avenue, then on the corner of Northwest 62nd Street and 17th Avenue and, finally, at his home. Although souse is Reaves’ specialty, he sells everything from barbecue to seafood rice to full-dinner plates.
“When I started selling it on the corners, I would use it as a part of ministry at the time,” Reaves said. “I was more focused on ministry than selling the souse but then the souse began to grow. It got to the point where I couldn’t cook enough of it.”
Then came another transformation.
“Within a five-month, six-month time, people gave me a new name,” Reaves said. “I wasn’t Larry no more: I was Souseman and I took that to heart. And as I took that to heart, it’s like ‘I’m gone be the best Souseman I can be.’ The same way I was hustling in the streets, I was hustling the souse.”
But after the success of “Street Food,” Reaves has been thinking a lot about expansion. Maybe a travel tour throughout the U.S. Or maybe a food truck. Or maybe even a brick-and-mortar in California. For now, he’s just focused on enjoying his newfound fame. And, of course, making some great souse.
“I gave my story to Netflix because I wanted people to see that no matter how bad your situation is,” Reaves said, “there’s nothing in your life that cannot be turned around.”