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Worth the Drive: Kora’s Place

STORY BY SARAH RUSSELL PHOTOS COURTESY OF FLEMING PHOTOGRAPHY

Serving soul food with compassion

As the sun is coming up over Kora’s Place, food is already being prepared.

To serve others takes a special heart. The young airman and the special education teacher no doubt saw that in each other. After two decades, multiple tours of duty, and four kids later, Cora and former Master Sgt. Lacornia Harris were ready for their second act. The plan? Come back to Lacornia’s hometown, Demopolis, set up a coffee shop and see how they could help make a difference there.

What they found for sale, though, was a full-size restaurant. They couldn’t have known then how perfect having all that extra space would be. Things were going to get crowded at their place as the local and national attention kept showing up.

They were included in the 2012 cookbook Alabama Food, Classic Dishes, Restaurants and Chefs, published by the Alabama Department of Tourism. Noted food expert Jon McClure selected Kora’s Place for his Alabama’s Best Restaurants cookbook. Quite an honor for Kora’s as McClure declared, “Those chosen represent the best at their specialty.” And a film crew for the Food Network Show “Roker on the Road,” which features NBC weatherman Al Roker, was lured in by Kora’s tasty fare.

Cora Harris, co-owner, with the other ladies of Kora’s – Serlena Craig, left, and Kaeena Keller, right. Harris shows how the Super Burger fills a whole plate.

The biggest challenge in the beginning, though, was just getting the sign up. The Harris kids wanted the place named for their mother. She was having none of it. Did not, would not have her name on that storefront. Compromise reached, it became “Kora’s Place” – with a “K” mind you, not her name.

The place is as unassuming as Miss Cora. They might have lived all over the U.S. and in Europe, but it was a firm decision that Kora’s would be nothing but downhome – nothing metro or Euro here. Its modest storefront reflects an attitude of come-as-you-are, come hungry and come pull up a chair with the rest of the folks in the community.

Everything’s big at Kora’s, starting with the size of the menu. Breakfast, lunch and dinner include all the standards, and even some old friends like a bologna sandwich or French toast.

Menu selection is just the beginning of the challenges faced here. Appetites easily go into overload just trying to maneuver down the move-over-Paula-Deen buffet – a true tribute to all the comfort foods Southerners do best. Insider tip: Do not pass up the cookbook-included peach cobbler or any of the real-pit smoked BBQ items.

Kora’s buffet is full of Southern comfort food.

The locals would say you’re not tasting some of Kora’s finest till you bite into one of their legendary burgers. A TripAdvisor reviewer praised them as “Mama made,” meaning fresh 100 percent ground beef, seasoned and made into patties right there. Lots of choices here too, but don’t miss the one you can hold over the fast foodies fanatics – The Big Daddy, a hefty blend of sausage and beef. But the biggest is the Super Burger, weighing in at 3 pounds. And that’s without the muffaletta bun.

“A lot of people buy them and take them home for the family. One will feed at least 5 or 6 people. If you’re really a meat lover, it will feed four,” says Cora.

It comes with a challenge: Put the combo down, fries and drink, too, and you get it free. Your picture joins the other 15 on the Wall of Fame, not to be confused with the very crowded Wall of Shame.

The family has taken on some challenges themselves. Kora’s Thanksgiving dinner has become a way the Harris family gives back. So the tables are set for all who want to come. Whether you have family or not, money or not, bring an appetite and have a seat.

Lacornia Harris, co-owner, greets customers.

For this event, Cora has her favorite assistant cooks, the three Harris girls. One daughter is now at the Redstone Arsenal, another a lawyer in Birmingham, and the youngest a local teacher. The fourth Harris, the son, is also in public service, stationed at the same air base his father once was. Serving others is obviously a lesson learned at home.

Since Kora’s start, the family has joined the volunteers of the Coming Together Organization to provide Christmas meals. What began for Cora and Lacornia as a contribution of 300 plates grew to 2,500 last year. Cora makes it clear the hungry don’t need a holiday at Kora’s.

“We’re always open to feed whoever needs it. We don’t turn anyone down. We take care of them.”

Outside of Kora’s, the Harris family has found other ways to feed those in need. Lacornia and other ministers in the local Ministerial Alliance have put together special worship services open to parishioners of all the local churches. This true coming together not only helps to unite the community, but it serves another purpose as well.

“The funds for that are used for people in need in the community,” Cora says.

The Harris family uses their gifts to nourish folks with food, with compassion, with hope. No doubt there are lots of folks who are grateful to have them and their good hearts downhome again.


Kora’s Place

1621 Highway 43 S.

Demopolis, AL 36732

334-289-4911

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 8:00 am – 8:00 pm

www.koraplace.com