In their new Haddon Avenue restaurant, Kim Diggs, her brother Matthew, and sister Trudy Pegues honor the legacy of their mother, Irene, whose passion for food connected a community in downtown Camden.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 11, 2023
For years, downtown Camden City was home to Irene’s 2nd Street Terminal, a friendly eatery where locals knew they would be well fed, even if they were down on their luck.
A place where, Kim Diggs said, the beat cops knew whether her mother was in the kitchen by the smell of her turkey wings on the wind; where many in the neighborhood simply called her “mom.”
“Anything she did, she put her best foot forward,” Diggs said.
“Got her master’s in theology at 65. She took in so many kids that she had an impact on.
“[Irene] was ambitious, resilient; she never let anybody be hungry,” Diggs said.
“She fed the neighborhood. Everybody loved her.”
Although the matriarch passed on in 2013, her children are rekindling their beloved mother’s memory at Irene’s Place, a seafood and soul food eatery that opened in the former Amber Grain Bakery at 325 Haddon Avenue this summer.
The new Collingswood eatery is inspired as much by Irene’s presence in the community as her recipes that nourished it.
While Irene was famous for her soul food recipes, like turkey wings and sweet potato pie, her daughter specializes in seafood — and crabs are her favorite. After she gets the restaurant on its feet, Diggs even plans to market the seasoning blend with which she prepares them.
“I’ve been doing crabs for years in different bars and kitchens,” Diggs said. “I’ve been picking crabs so long I know a Delaware Bay crab from a Virginia crab from a Maryland crab or a Louisiana crab. That’s what I bring to the restaurant.”
Irene’s Place is built around seafood — fried fish, sautéed shrimp, salmon balls, fish tacos — including the salmon cheesesteak, or “seasteak,”, a Camden City favorite that enjoys a place of prominence alongside the more traditional beef and chicken cheesesteaks.
But Diggs is equally excited for guests to sample her soul food, and as the weather turns colder, she plans to cook more of it.
For now, customers can order her honey garlic and barbecue hot wings, but hearty dishes like stuffed salmon, collard greens, and potato salad are on the way, too.
“We’re going to slow-walk it,” she said.
“We’ve just got to do a little bit at a time.”
Diggs comes to the restaurant business after years of working union labor jobs and hustling crabs on the side.
The family spent two years restoring the former Amber Grain storefront to use as a seafood eatery, replacing “everything from the roof to the bottom of the floor,” Diggs said.
Her brother, Matthew, led the construction efforts; her sister, Trudy Pegues, helps in the kitchen.
Kim Diggs, who is a cancer survivor, calls the restaurant her “last lap” of work after years of hard physical labor. She credits her family for helping breathe life not only into their mother’s memory, but her own transition into self-employment as well.
“I’ve been through journeys,” she said. “I just keep on moving with the help of my family. All of us work together to make sure that we put out healthy food, give back to the neighborhood, and help out the family.
“God gave me this gift, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do with my last breath: give back,” Kim Diggs said. “My brother and sister got this place for me, and gave me a purpose to get up in the morning.
“Mom raised us to stay together,” she said. “Whatever you do, give it to God and stay your course. If you’re passionate about something, keep doing it.”
Irene’s Place is located at 325 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 856-240-7047.
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