Former banker has big plans for Binghampton restaurant serving down home meals

A labor of love is alive and well at 253 Tillman Street in Binghampton. The building, formerly RoZay's Wings and Things, is quickly becoming a staple in the community for home cooked meals, laughter and care from an owner known for his dedication to the community and his love for making his customers happy.

Tavias Ford opened Vivian’s Down Home Cooking in August 2018. Named for his late grandmother, the restaurant is open from 11AM to 7PM Monday through Saturday.

Vivian's specializes in home cooking. Ford said his meals often remind customers of the food they grew up eating on Sundays after church. Signature dishes include stuffing, baked chicken, mac and cheese and desserts like cinnamon roll cake and sweet potato pie. The restaurant is currently carry-out style, with only a few chairs for customers dine in or wait. 

Prior to opening the restaurant, Ford worked in banking for 18 years but has been catering as a side business since 2010. Ford always knew he wanted to open a restaurant and was waiting for the perfect location at the perfect time.

“For two years straight I rode by the building, I didn’t make a move. I wanted to be sure. I prayed about it, talked to people about it,” said Ford.

After being let go by SunTrust Bank because of a management change in December of 2017, he decided it was time to make the move and leased the building on Tillman.

“To be here, I just wanted to do something different for the area. I could’ve come in and just done the bare minimum to get open,” said Ford.

The restaurant serves 50 to 60 new clients a day, a number that Ford is quite proud of. As a new business in the community, most of his clientele find out about the restaurant by word-of-mouth. He's still learning and taking all business operations day by day, including frequently changing the menu according to food costs and suggestions from his frequent customers.

Vivian's offers home style meals reminiscent of grandma's house. Featured here is baked chicken, green beans, mac n cheese and cornbread. (Taylor Moore)
Tracy Brittmon is a weekly Vivian's regular. She said she keeps coming back because the food is superb and always served with a smile and lots of love. She also likes the consistency and quality of the food and had even more to say about Ford.

“I absolutely love the owner because he puts his heart into what he does and you can feel when you walk through the door that you’re welcome. I’ve even seen little kids from the neighborhood come in and he feeds them and they don’t have to pay,” said Brittmon.

The restaurant only has three employees, one of whom is Mama Cookie. Ford and Mama Cookie met several years ago through their church, House of Prayer.

Ford recalled talking with Mama Cookie when he first decided on the space on Tillman Street because of the condition of the building before renovation.

Mama Cookie tests the fryer during the renovation process at 253 Tillman Street. Ford and Mama Cookie met through their church several years ago. (Submitted) “She said, 'I did not want you to waste your money and your time. I was really pushing you to go somewhere else but you were so adamant about this location.’ She said, ‘Whatever you want to do I’m going to stick with you,’” Ford said.

“She’s my ride or die, my right hand, my go to," he continued. 

Ford has made major investments in the building. Purchase of the property and renovations have been entirely out of his personal savings, roughly $65,000, and only the first phase of the restaurant is complete.

“This is really an extension of me, an extension of my home," said Ford. "I want you to feel like you’re at home when you come through the doors. That was really the sole purpose of opening on this corner.”

Ford has plans to grow Vivian’s beyond its current state. He's already purchased the other half of the current his building, but he also wants to own the whole corner and revamp and revitalize the entire block. Most immediately, he plans to renovate his current space and expand the restaurant with a dining room for community members to fellowship while enjoying their meals.

“By doing so I want to employ and hire people from the community,” said Ford. "My grandmother raised me, and I was taught to give back so that’s what I intend to do.”

Ford recently purchased the second half of the building at 253 Tillman. He plans to renovate and turn this space into dining room for Vivian's Down Home Cooking. (Submitted)
Ford is particularly happy that he was able to open the restaurant in Binghampton, and members of the community have also expressed their gratitude. He recalled a time that a customer, a longtime resident of Binghampton, addressed the need for businesses in the neighborhood and thanked Ford for choosing his neighborhood. He said Binghampton is a good community that often gets plagued by a bad reputation but there are still good people.

“The kids that come through, I want them to see a positive Black role model. That’s one of the ultimate goals, to be somebody doing something different and that’s really it,” said Ford.

Ford also said he believes Binghampton could be the new Orange Mound, a community that he said is known historically for African American excellence. He is very proud to be a part of the development of Binghampton.

“If I can be just a beacon of light or a glimmer of light for somebody, I’m good with that,” said Ford.

Read more articles by Taylor Moore.