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Remembering Pioneering Restaurateur B. Smith


We learned today that B. Smith, the legendary former model, cookbook author, TV host and entrepreneur has died. She had early onset Alzheimer's. Born Barbara Elaine Smith but known as B. Smith, she first broke barriers as a model, becoming one of the first African Americans to land a major fashion magazine cover in the 1970s.

But she was probably best known for the restaurant and lifestyle empire that bore her name, selling home goods at the national retailer Bed Bath & Beyond, authoring books on cooking and entertaining and opening restaurants that became synonymous with fine Southern cooking, although she had no formal training as a chef.

Back in 2011, she shared her story with our colleague Tony Cox on a visit to her Washington, D.C., restaurant, then located in a grand salon at Union Station.


B SMITH: You know, I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. And I am who I am today because of my parents, my aunts and uncles, the family and growing up in that small town. I was also a paper girl. You know, I sold magazines. I - you know, I did all kinds of things. And I was very involved with my parents in cooking and decorating and - you know? So what I do today - much of what I do is what I did as a young girl.

MARTIN: She would eventually become the first black woman to sit on the board of the Culinary Institute of America, and she hosted cooking segments on television. She opened her first restaurant in 1986.


SMITH: I had a partner when I first started. It was a restaurant group. And eventually, I met my husband in my first restaurant, and we decided we wanted to be partners. And so we broke off from the group, and we, you know, opened another restaurant around the corner. It's not an easy business at all, and I was really thankful when he decided he wanted to go into the business. I wouldn't really suggest it unless somebody really is passionate about it. I'm still passionate about it. I love people. I love feeding people. I love making people happy.

MARTIN: Smith was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2013 and opened up about living with the disease in her 2016 book, "Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, And Acceptance In Our Fight Against Alzheimer's." Her husband, Dan Gasby, announced her death in a Facebook post this morning. B. Smith was 70 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.