Growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, Nyanyika Banda was known by many of her neighbors simply as Martha's daughter.
Now, on the heels of a culinary journey that included stints in New York and San Francisco, she's adopted the moniker — this time, as the name of her own newly opened restaurant in Duluth.
Martha's Daughter (107 E. Superior St., marthasdaughterrestaurant.net), a global eatery honoring Banda's mother and heavily featuring female farmers and producers, debuted last week in the former Original Coney Island location.
"She's just always been a strong presence," said Banda of the original Martha. "She's been a great role model to me and she's always encouraged me to do what I want to do."
But the origin story began in New England. How did a Massachusetts girl make it all the way to Duluth?
Banda first discovered the draw of Duluth after attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she and a group of her college friends decided to move to the Twin Ports city. She'd leave eventually, but would come back twice more between jobs in New York and San Francisco — where she helped open two acclaimed Mission Chinese restaurants — finally earning her undergrad degree while cooking in a variety of pop-ups throughout the city.
She decided to stay, and put down some roots — her first restaurant.
"I always felt Duluth was kind of special," she said. "I love living near the water. Something that surprised me was how great the creative scene is here. It's a great community. And I always just keep coming back."
At Martha's Daughter, Banda will draw from her various experiences, making dishes inspired by Mission Chinese, as well as some of the dumplings, ramen and tacos she became known for with her single-night pop-ups around town. Banda's menu also pays homage to the former Coney Island with a Coney dog, and tries to honor the local bounty around her — using Lake Superior fish and wild rice harvested by one of her employees.
And she's hoping to use female farmers, wine producers and brewers (there will also be a full bar) as much as possible.
"I identify as a feminist and I see this restaurant as an extension of that," Banda said. "I'm just trying to represent and empower females, especially in areas where they might normally be underrepresented."
Martha's Daughter is open for lunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), dinner (4:30 to 10 p.m.) and late-night (10 p.m. to 1 a.m.) daily except Wednesdays.