Soul Plate (any two piece of chicken with choice of two sides) | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom
Shrimp & Grits | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The iconic venue that once hosted performances by music legends such as Kendrick Lamar and the Foo Fighters at Velvet Jones is now home to Soul Bites, Santa Barbara’s only Black-owned café and music lounge. Soul Bites invites locals and visitors alike to experience the heart and soul of Black American–style soul food and hosts events that transcend the conventional dining experience, merging Southern cookout flavors of fried chicken and collard greens with the rhythms of jazz, blues, and more.

Owner Stirling Nix-Bradley, who cut his teeth working in hospitality positions in restaurants under chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and Michael Voltaggio, attributes his love for Southern soul food to his adoptive parents. Settling in Oxnard, Nix-Bradley’s parents became very involved in the Trinity Baptist Church, where his adoptive father was a deacon, and that’s where Nix-Bradley says he developed his love for community cooking. 

“Everyone would potluck after Sunday service, and the menu was always the same: fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and potato salad,” he said, reminiscing on his childhood. Summers spent in Taylor, Texas, emphasized his love for the comfort classics. “I spent all my summers as a kid eating soul food while driving to and from southern Texas, where my parents are from. They learned through their experiences growing up Black in the ‘50s and ‘60s that you didn’t pull over to eat just anywhere —as racism along that route played an imminent threat to safety. We always packed our food, so what I know is eating cold fried chicken and biscuits on the road.”

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The Soul Bites menu is truly a representation of Nix-Bradley’s childhood. Some dishes are a direct copy of his childhood family recipes, while others are elevated with the guidance of Chef John Cleveland from Post & Beam in Baldwin Hills, as well as from Nix-Bradley’s wife, Rose. “Chef Cleveland helped design the menu and gave us structure on some of our staple ingredients like our chicken brine. There are nearly 50 ingredients in there, some of them I would have never thought to use. The black-eyed peas, collard greens, and the banana pudding are family recipes with little twists — for example, we decided on making the collard greens vegan, opting not to use pork in the recipe.”

Vegan menu items are not limited to side dishes; their Soul Sandwich with portobello, black-eyed pea hummus, and greens or their vegan crab cakes with remoulade becomes a perfect companion for their POC-centered list of beers and wines.

Stirling Nix-Bradley | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Soul Bites is not just a place to find and enjoy authentic Southern soul food as Nix-Bradley originally intended. A few months after their opening, The Music Alley, a venue that worked alongside Soul Bites, abruptly departed, leaving the space behind the café empty, and prompting Nix-Bradley to begin creating a network of Santa Barbara small businesses, musicians, and performers. Over the last year, Soul Bites went from a small soul food café to a vibrant hub for fostering connections, celebrating diversity, and embracing the joy of communal gatherings. Truly embodying the spirit of the Black family cookouts he grew up with, Nix-Bradley’s aim quickly evolved as the opportunity arose to create a community through culinary fusion with ingredients that are both edible and experiential, including elements like music and dance.

The building blocks of his mission are a series of diverse community events that add life to the café’s casual dining atmosphere. Swing lessons take center stage on Monday nights at 6:45 p.m., led by professional dancer Jay Byam, who alternates weekly between teaching East and West Coast swing styles.

Comedy aficionados will find their home at Soul Bites as well. No Indoor Voices collaborates with the café for regular comedic performances on the third Saturday of each month and has featured standout performers such as Kimmie Dee and Alonzo Bodden (grand prize winner of NBC’s hit comedy series Last Comic Standing in 2004). 

Art enthusiasts, too, have a place at Soul Bites. The monthly Paint and Sip event, guided by the talented tattoo artist Marylee Guerrero, is an intentionally affordable art class ($20) happening monthly, where attendees can express their creativity while enjoying wine and beer from the bar.

But the festivities don’t stop there. Soul Bites takes pride in offering a wide array of event nights to truly cater to the diverse community it serves. Sober Love Tuesdays is a weekly event in collaboration with Game Seeker in Santa Barbara that stands out as a beacon for those seeking a safe and inclusive space to socialize without the influence of alcohol. And the evening is not just limited to traditional board games; recent activities included Sober Love drag bingo.

Morganfield Burnett, Blues Night musician (left) and band | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Beyond the food, the core of Soul Bites’ identity is the music, and the calendar is brimming with acts that cater to all musical tastes. The upcoming performance by The Busboys, an all-Black rock band, promises an evening that encapsulates the fusion of culture, talent, and passion that Soul Bites embodies. Another example is a recent partnership with Andy Gálvez, winner of one of this year’s Latino Business Awards, which brought norteño, banda, and mariachi to the venue with a promise of monthly performances to continue.

Soul Bites is a testament to the power food, art, and community have in bringing people together. With its welcoming atmosphere, soulful comfort food, and events calendar reflecting a rich and savory melting pot of human experiences, whether you’re indulging in delicious soul food or dancing the night away, you can find a warm welcome and a sense of belonging at Soul Bites. As Nix-Bradley says, “When you are here, you are home.”

423 State St.; (805) 869-2198;

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the name of the comedy show producer at Soul Bites.


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