Minnie P. Sebree, a caterer and restaurateur who aimed to take her home-style specialties to a wider clientele, died Saturday in her South Toledo home.
She was 73 and had cancer the last four years but continued to work until about three months ago, said daughter Claudia, chief executive of the Toledo-based Aunt Minnie’s Southern-Style Entrees.
“She never gave up and never allowed me to give up,” her daughter said.
Most recently, Aunt Minnie’s goods — apple, peach, blackberry, and pecan cobblers; sweet potato souffle and pie and candied yams — have been available in the frozen food section of stores in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. She was most proud of her cornbread stuffing and aspired to bring that to market, her daughter said. Earlier, the company had a packaging facility in Perrysburg and its products were available locally.
“Her main thing was history. Making history,” her daughter said. That is, as an African-American woman and business owner whose product and face — her picture is on every box — were in the frozen food case, she hoped to inspire others.
“She knew that somebody else might want to come along and do it too,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Sebree began cooking for the public as a young woman working in the kitchen at St. Luke’s Hospital, then in the Old West End.
She learned from her colleagues, “old Polish ladies [who] did everything from scratch,” her daughter said. “St. Luke’s was the place where you went to eat like a restaurant.”
And so Mrs. Sebree made sauces, not gravy, and relied on spices, not salt, to add flavor, her daughter said.
“She was not a cook. She was an artist,” her daughter said. Rebuffed by her boss when she asked for a promotion, Mrs. Sebree instead went to Davis College and received an associate’s degree in computer programming. She was hired by the former Ohio Citizens Bank, which became National City Bank. She retired in 1992 as a head teller at the Parkway Plaza branch in Maumee.
By then, she’d begun catering and preparing meals for customers to freeze and reheat later. From the mid-1990s until 2000, she and her daughter operated Sebree’s Restaurant and Catering on South Reynolds.
“We’re not soul food. We’re just good home cooking,” she told The Blade in 1995.
She was born March 30, 1941, in Mound Bayou, Miss., to Hattie and Rueben Peters. She was 2 when the family moved to Toledo, and she was a 1959 graduate of Libbey High School. She was a member of Harvest Time Holiness Church.
Surviving are her husband, Roy D. Sebree, whom she married March 13, 1970; daughters Claudia Sebree-Pressley and Dr. Elizabeth Douglas; son, Carl Jay, Sr.; stepdaughter, Trina Clayborn-Spence; sisters Livvie King and Marquetta Brooks; brothers, Charles, Johnny, and Rueben Peters; six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation is 4-6 p.m. today in C. Brown Funeral Home. Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in Cornerstone Church, where wake services will begin at noon.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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