Malia's Kitchen serves customers at its Westfield Montgomery Mall location. Credit: Kathleen Neary

A new addition to the food court at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda offers soulful favorites that are rooted in family traditions.

After years of serving Montgomery County in a food truck, Malia’s Kitchen has transitioned into a brick-and-mortar location in the mall’s food court next to McDonald’s. The soul food eatery, which opened Sept. 1, offers “good homestyle cooking” with menu staples including crab mac and cheese, fried fish, fried chicken and collard greens.

Malia’s Kitchen owner Adonis Adams, 51, grew up watching his mother run her catering company for nearly three decades. He said he often helped her with her business and being around her inspired him to start his own food business.

Adams started operating Malia’s Kitchen food truck in 2017 but was limited to operating on the weekends as he prioritized his career in information technology. After working in IT at the National Institutes of Health during the coronavirus pandemic, Adams decided to switch the focus back onto his food business.

“Our client base just grew so quickly from doing catering and special events that I ended up having to build a bigger truck,” he said. “So I have everything on it because I was doing it so I can do huge events like weddings, sporting events.”

Adams was able to attain the spot in the mall’s food court after his nephew, who worked at the Chik-fil-A in the food court, told him a location would be opening up.

At first Adams said he wasn’t sure about taking on a full kitchen but he saw potential for growth within Montgomery County. Adams will continue to offer catering and operate the food truck to serve business partnerships established over the years.

Since opening, Malia’s Kitchen has a received good reception from the community, according to Adams.

“Westfield Montgomery embraces the diversity of our community and is proud to have retailers that cater to and represent a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds,” Zenia Davis, marketing director of Westfield Montgomery, said in an email. “We are so excited to have Malia’s Kitchen be a part of our story at the center, it is a wonderful addition to our dining terrace and offers amazing local cuisine that reflects the vibrant diversity of our guests.”

On its grand opening day, the eatery served about 80 customers, growing to about 100 on Saturday and dropping to about 65 customers on the Sunday before Labor Day, he said.

“I think that’s pretty good for a start-up business in the mall – anywhere actually,” he said. “I know four or five customers by name because they literally have come and eaten every day since we’ve been open.”

Now that he has a permanent location, Adams doesn’t plan to stop there. He said he has a six-month vision that includes expanding marketing and promotion, possibly moving into a bigger location at the mall, partnering with food delivery services such as GrubHub and Uber Eats, and starting an all-day brunch on Sundays at the mall location.

Overall, Adams said his ultimate goal is to “become a destination eatery for the county and be the first thing people think about when they want soul food.” Part of Adams’ goal is addressing what he described as a lack of soul food spots in the county.

“I had a customer come in last night that was saying … ‘Man I’m glad to have a soul food place here because I have to go all the way’ ” to a restaurant in Washington, D.C., to that type of food, Adams said. “He was like, ‘Just to have a place that I don’t have to drive 45 minutes to get something to eat,’ it’s good for him.”

Adams said he plans to open various locations throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area as his business grows but right now his focus is on the mall location.

Malia’s Kitchen is open 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday.