PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Saudia Shuler a.k.a. “Saud” is known for her personality and for her no-nonsense approach to people and life. “Don’t play with Saud,” is her famous line, one that gets a smile and a knowingly look from those who hear it.
“You either love me or you hate me,” says Shuler, “there is no in between.”
But Saud is also known for her cuisine. She’s owner of Country Cookin’, a take-out spot near 22nd and Cambria that boasts long lines as soon as the doors open. People come for the jerk chicken, Cuban turkey wings, crab cakes, mac and cheese, and just about everything in between.
“Everything is fresh, no cans over here,” says Saud with pride, “I give people what I would want to eat.”
But it wasn’t Saud’s vittles that went viral last spring, it was the rather extravagant prom send off for her college bound son, J.J., that made national headlines. The event cost an estimated $25,000 and included a camel, three luxury vehicles, three dates, and six outfit changes for her son.
“That prom has gotten me in so much trouble,” says Shuler, “I mean after that- everyone wanted a piece of me and started asking questions.”
But that event was just one day. Shuler carries her big heart around on her sleeve.
“I give because they gave to me- and brought me back to life,” she says.
Shuler says she suffered a stroke in 2014 and got a cancer diagnosis. She says her family is what helped her through; that and the support of the neighborhood and city helped her build a successful business.
So at Christmas, Shuler transformed her North Philly block into the North Pole, giving away hundreds of gifts to kids.
“It started off just being me and then the community just got involved,” she says. “It was epic, how one person can bring so many people together, it was like a movement.”
Another public example of Saud’s generosity was in November, when she gave away hundreds of fish and grits meals, or “Meek Meals,” to raise awareness about her friend, imprisoned rapper “Meek Mill.”
“He used to support me,” she says, “whenever he had videos or brought stars in town he’d say, ‘Saud lay it out, there’s no budget.'”
Behind the scenes, Shuler is just as generous. She’s helped quell neighborhood beefs, bought clothes for kids who needed it, and even hired extra teen employees to keep them out of trouble.
“I am teaching them a craft,” says Shuler, “we are a family.”
And while Saud’s bustling business is the engine funding it all, it’s her over the top kindness that’s changing the game, one plate at a time.
“I really am passionate about everything I do,” she says.