Oral History

Anita Spring Council and Annette “Neecy” Council - On Their Family History and Family Businesses

Interviewed by Kathy Atwater and Mae McLendon and Kathryn Wall on February 18, 2022

"Yeah our friends would be going to the ball games and going here and then we had to go to work. But then when it came down to going to McDonald’s or whatever we had the money to buy it and they didn’t, so that was the good part about it."

- Annette "Neecy" Council

Anita Spring Council and Annette “Neecy” Council discuss their family history and the restaurant Mama Dip’s Kitchen that their mother, Mildred Council, established and that the family operates today. They explain the history of the Council and Cotton families and discuss their early lives living across the street from St. Paul AME Church. They describe the impact of desegregation on their school experiences at Northside Elementary and Estes Hills, particularly feeling disconnected from the curriculum that largely ignored Black history and culture. In the 1970s, there were protests and disruptions at school led by older students, but they only got involved with freedom marches organized by the church.

Their grandfather owned Bill’s Bar-B-Que and they worked to assemble boxes of chicken for sale at football games. Their father owned a food truck and the family eventually reopened Bill’s Bar-B-Que, with everyone pitching in and working there. They discuss the ups and downs of working in the family business as a young person, and about their mother’s eventual decision to break up with her husband and start her own business, Dip’s Country Kitchen, where her children worked, even while in college. They discuss the nicknames in their family and where various family members live now, as well as their own children. Spring’s daughter owns Tanya’s Cookies, which was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite things.

They discuss the ownership and changes in properties on Rosemary and Cotton Streets, and the landbank properties that the Jackson Center has assisted with. The family has held family reunions where Mrs. Council did a lot of the cooking, but as the restaurant grew more and more popular and busy, she had less time for those gatherings. They mention some of their favorite foods that their mother prepared and the kinds of things that they like to cook when they aren’t in the restaurant today. The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the restaurant as previous recessions and other hardships had, and the Council sisters explain how their mother’s determination to keep going “no matter what was going on” inspired them to keep going during this latest set of challenges. The restaurant has hired work release employees from the prison system and they discuss how hard those employees have worked, and an incident in which an inmate escaped after working and their mother had to fight to keep their work release employees on the job. Mama Dip’s has also hired Burmese refugees, and they discuss their mother’s teaching methods for showing someone how to bake her recipes, in spite of a language barrier. After Mildred Council died, the family kept the restaurant going with ease because she had prepared them all so well with a deep understanding of every aspect of the restaurant’s operations. Long-time customers came to pay their respects. They talk about Mrs. Council providing food for seniors in the community, gardening to provide vegetables for the restaurant, seasonal cooking, and the current staffing of the restaurant. The sisters grew up attending St. Paul AME Church and, later, Hamlet Chapel, their mother’s home church. Eventually, they had to change the name from Dip’s Country Kitchen to Mama Dip’s Kitchen due to a trademark on the term “country kitchen,” but they explain that people knew the restaurant as Mama Dip’s by then anyway, and so the name change was easy to make. Mrs. Council was able to secure a loan for the new restaurant space and paid it off within seven years, thanks to its success and to her sales of cookbooks, including sales on QVC.

Mrs. Council started the Mama Dip’s Share the Love Fund to support organizations that provide programs for children, and the sisters talk about how their mother responded to her sudden fame. Mrs. Council got her nickname due to her height, being the only one in the family tall enough to dip water out of the well. They discuss how food and cooking connect people and remind people of their own family’s food traditions. “Food is about giving and nurturing.”

Anita Spring Council and Annette “Neecy” Council - On Their Family History and Family Businesses

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Oral history interview of Council, Anita Spring conducted by Atwater, Kathy on February 18, 2022 at Mama Dip’s Kitchen business office at 111 N. Merritt Mill Rd. in Chapel Hill, NC. Processed by Cosby, Isabel.

Citation: Marian Cheek Jackson Center, “Anita Spring Council and Annette “Neecy” Council - On Their Family History and Family Businesses,” From the Rock Wall, accessed July 19, 2024, https://fromtherockwall.org/oral-histories/anita-spring-council-and-annette-neecy-council-on-their-family-history-and-family-businesses.

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