Aunt Lou’s Soul Food is slated to become the next restaurant to occupy the lower level of 524 E. Monroe, which has been vacant since Vele relocated to the west side a little over two years ago. Prior to that, it housed Café Brio for two decades before the restaurant closed in 2016.

Corey Dickerson is teaming up with Smarjesse Taylor to bring what he calls “modern soul food with a classy touch” to downtown.

“Aunt Lou was my grandmother; the neighborhood and community called her Aunt Lou, but she was my grandmother who raised me,” said Dickerson. “Everybody loved her food, and she inspired me on this cooking adventure. Whenever she would cook, I’d venture into the kitchen and stand there, watching her.”

Dickerson said he started cooking professionally while living in Miami, Florida, for eight years, catering private events. After his grandmother died, he moved back to Springfield. “When we were cleaning her stuff out, we found all her cookbooks,” he said. “People started telling me I should take cooking more seriously.”

Dickerson operated the restaurant and sports bar inside the Brass Rail Reception Center at 1701 J. David Jones Parkway before the hotel closed down, but said he didn’t have the freedom to explore the type of cooking he wanted to pursue. Then he became acquainted with the downtown dining scene through Downtown Springfield Inc.’s annual Friends of the Market Dinner. “They picked me to be the appetizer chef,” Dickerson said, who decided to locate his new venture downtown.

Renovations began in mid-November, and while an opening date has not been set, Dickerson said he hopes to be ready soon. “We’re just wrapping up loose ends at this point.”