Karter Louis read The Joy of Cooking cover to cover three times by the time he graduated from high school—while the rest of us goggled the adventures of Aquaman and Archie. His grandmother, known for her own peach cobbler, sat him down one day after she tried his version. Louis thought he was in trouble, but in fact she wanted his recipe. “I come from a family that loves food,” Louis says. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, the chef and restaurateur laughs after exclaiming, “I think I was born in the kitchen!”
At his latest restaurant, Soul Slice, a variation on his first cobbler shows up on the dessert section of the menu as “peach cobbler pizza.” A dark, rich peach compote smothers a biscuit crust. Soul Slice is a pizza joint with Louis’ own twist. Instead of using traditional dough for the crust, all the pies—including dessert—use a biscuit crust as the base. Pepperoni isn’t on the menu. The toppings are intentionally rooted in Southern soul food. Customers build their own pies or choose among combinations including cajun shrimp and hot links, black eyed peas and sweet potato or cornmeal chicken nuggets—outstanding on their own as a side dish—smashed potato and green beans.
Louis doesn’t claim biscuit pizza dough as his own invention, but his recipes derive from his own personal experience. While his single mom worked, he cooked all the time at home for his younger brother, who really wanted to have pizza for dinner. Since they couldn’t afford to order it, he improvised. When he was 14, Louis recalls that, “One day, I literally took a can of biscuits, mashed them all together and topped them with sausage and peppers and cheese, baked it and it was so good!”
At the time, Domino’s was an ascendant pizza chain. “At church, at after-school practice or spending the night at a friend’s house on the weekend—pizza was the thing that was so pervasive in my generation,” he says. But Louis didn’t actually like it, and didn’t revisit the thought of making it professionally until years later. “I was making English muffin pizzas for my kids, and a friend of mine told me that she was making pizza with biscuit dough.” It was an “aha” moment. He began making pizza at home with biscuit as the base, which brought back those childhood memories.
Buoyed by the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, Louis believed it was the right time to open Soul Slice, an idea that had ruminated in the back of his mind for years. “I’ve always felt that soul food was underappreciated,” he says. “Whenever I travel, I always try to find the best soul food place in town, at hole-in-the-walls or cute diners—but they can be hard to find.”
Soul Slice takes a bolder and fairer approach to employee salaries. “The restaurant industry was so gutted by the pandemic,” Louis says. In 2020, he received many phone calls from friends and former colleagues who had lost their jobs. Looking back at his long history in the business, he thought about how inequitable restaurants are. Soul Slice isn’t a collective, but Louis didn’t want to open another restaurant without offering full-time positions with health and other benefits that most industries take for granted.
While talking about his approach to cooking, Louis mentions Adrian Miller’s book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time as a source of inspiration. Like the recent Netflix documentary High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, Louis easily references the West African origins of okra, acknowledging that soul food is an intrinsic part of America’s culinary history. “Soul food came from here. It was developed and derived from here—the methods, the ingredients,” he says. “You can not get any more American than soul food.”Soul Slice, 5849 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. Open Wednesday to Saturday, 3–9pm; Sunday, 11am to 3pm. 510.879.7689. soulslicepizza.com