Sunday, October 1, 2023

Former New Yorker brings soul food to Buckroe Beach

Chef Julie Rainey runs The Upper Room Experience, a catering business and soul food restaurant (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Julie Rainey)
Chef Julie Rainey runs The Upper Room Experience, a catering business and soul food restaurant (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Julie Rainey)

HAMPTON — Julie Rainey has been cooking since she was 9 years old.

Now, she runs a catering business and restaurant in Buckroe Beach.

The Upper Room Experience opened in June.

“I grew up with my mother and grandmother and great grandmother,” Rainey said. “i was basically the taster, anything that dropped I wanted it.”

Originally from the Bronx, New York, “Chef Rainey” moved to Virginia in 2015 to be closer to her grandkids.

She did a lot of catering in New York and while it was a little slow for her to adjust, she got catering gigs and would make and sell all natural beverages like non-alcoholic ginger beer at the Buckroe Beach Farmer’s Market.

Eventually, her family encouraged her to get a place of her own.

“I figured if I got a brick-and-mortar people would come to me,” Rainy said.

She leased the building and added a restaurant for people who didn’t want a catering order but wanted to try her food.

Rainey describes her restaurant as “soul food” with a “Caribbean flair.”

And the menu changes daily.

“I have a master menu and when I close, I wake up and decide what I am going to cook for my menu,” Rainey said. ”I don’t have in-house take out menus. I post my menus every day on social media.”

Some favorite food staples she serves are the ox tails and turkey wings. She was even featured on the Hampton Roads Show earlier this year.

Even though Rainey has here degree in social work, she decided to pursue catering and eventually open a restaurant.

“I can social work and cater at the same time,” Rainey said.

Currently she runs the restaurant with the help of her family and in the future, she plans on hiring local students to learn more about the business.

“Having a restaurant in some way is like having that neighborhood beauty shop –– talking about how your day is going” Rainey said. “You get the social in, at least I do.”

Rainey describes her restaurant as a place where people can feel at home — the walls are covered with photos of her family from her parents to her great great grandmother.

“When you walk in you’ll feel the comfort of home,” Rainey said. “You will be reminded of your childhood or your grandmother’s kitchen.”

The Upper Room Experience, 1923 N. Mallory St., is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. For more information, visit the Upper Room Experience Facebook page.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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