Southern Soul Food entrepreneur hopes to sell Northerners on batter-fried corn on the cob


Willy Frazier, 53, is a risk taker.

The former soul food restaurateur turned spice/mix entrepreneur from Minneapolis, tells a story about a crazy risk he took trying to sell his batter-fried corn outside the Minnesota State Fair about seven years ago.

It’s so bold, he has to stop multiple times and swear to the listener that he’s not lying or making it up.

The fair had denied his corn, because they already had corn. So, he went around trying to get the food trucks to sell his product, but they said they weren’t allowed.

Michael Nelson, left, an employee at the Robbinsdale Hy-Vee gas station, reacts to the flavor of Willy Frazier’s deep fried corn Saturday, July 11, 2020. Frazier is selling his seasoned batter mix at that grocery store and hopes one day to open a seasonings shop of his own. (Deanna Weniger / Pioneer Press)

Frustrated, he told himself, if he walks outside the gates and sees an empty food truck, he would consider it a sign from God to keep trying.

“I went outside and the food truck was there,” he said. “It had everything that I needed. They had a fryer. They had a blue bowl sitting out like it was waiting on me.”

No one was in the truck, so he decided to go inside and fix his corn to hopefully prove to the owner that his product can be profitable.

“I’m about five or six minutes into the process,” he said, punctuating each sentence by slapping the table. “I drop the corn in the fryer and the manager came back. He said, ‘What the hell are you doing?!’ He said, ‘Call the police!’”

Frazier said he had to talk fast to keep the manager from dialing 911. He pulled the first batch out of the fryer and begged him to taste it. The manager was impressed with his moxie and with his corn. Together they sold about 30 boxes of corn that week, he said.

“That corn kept me out of jail,” he said, laughing.

Frazier grew up in Arkansas and his southern accent is still present even though he’s lived in Minneapolis most of his adult life. His mother, Bertha Thomas, taught her three boys to know their way around the kitchen.

“She used to like to cook; I used to like to eat,” he said.

It was her batter-fried corn recipe he brought with him when he moved north. It was, and still is, received with skepticism from Northerners who are used to eating corn plain with just butter and salt.

Pictured is a plate of deep fried corn that had been dipped in Willy D’s batter mix and seasoned with the spices featured Saturday, July 11, 2020 at the Robbinsdale Hy-Vee grocery store. Willy Frazier, 53, of Minneapolis is a former restaurant owner. He is hoping to get his soul food seasonings out to a larger market and introduce Minnesotans to the tastes he remembers from childhood in Arkansas. (Deanna Weniger / Pioneer Press)

But Frazier is a salesman and he knows he’s got a new customer when they fall silent while eating his corn, tasting every kernel.

“When you put my spice on it, you eat the corn a little bit faster,” he said.

Frazier’s had an entrepreneurial spirit since he was young. At age 17, he opened an arcade, splitting the profits with the games dealers. He sells fashion accessories at a boutique in Minneapolis and owned Willy D’s Southern Style soul food restaurant at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue for about six years.

When the owner of the building raised the rents, Frazier decided he was done with the restaurant business and decided to focus on bringing his southern spices to the northern market.

He already has his “Willy D’s Deep Fried Corn Batter” in Robbinsdale’s Hy-Vee grocery store. The store is considering selling the corn in its deli department.

He’s also got a couple of spice mixes in the works, such as his Nashville Hot chicken seasoning and his Chop House burger seasoning.

His corn can be tasted at Phattone’s Finger Food truck, often found during the summer in St. Paul’s Midway/Como neighborhoods. Find the truck’s movements at cheftoneporter on Instagram.

About 15 years ago, he went back home. His mother fixed him his favorites: spaghetti and hog maws. That was their last meal together. She died of cancer two days before her 58th birthday.

He knows she’d be proud to see her influence in his cooking and is rooting for his next venture to succeed.

“You’ve got to take chances in life,” he said. “God’s watching over you. He knows you’ve got good intentions. That’s the way I walk.”

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