Flint, MI — As kids, Teresa Chapman and her sister, Pearline Prince, would commonly use their Easy Bake Oven to bake cakes or pies.
“I always loved to cook,” Chapman, who is now 64, said.
Now, Chapman and Prince cook in a much larger kitchen where they make tacos — ones that are bringing in long lines between bright red velvet rope dividers at their new location inside the Flint Farmers’ Market.
“I know that people are not used to waiting on their favorite food,” she said. “But at Mr. Prince Gourmet, the food is cooked fresh to order.”
In other words, even though the lines are long, it’s worth the wait for the fresh, gourmet food, she said.
Chapman said the customers’ smiles when they take their first bite are what keep her going.
“I like to see people smile when they get that flavor when it hits the palate. You know, when their eyes light up,” she said.
A brief history of Mr. Prince
It all started in the 1950s when Chapman’s uncle, Harry Prince Jr., started selling hot tamales while working for the Chevrolet Manufacturing (“Chevy in the Hole”) near downtown Flint. Prince Jr. says he made and sold about 500 tamales per week during a typical five-day work week.
Then, Chapman’s grandpa, Harry Prince Sr., took over the recipes and opened up Prince Groceries, where one side of the building was a restaurant and the other side was a grocery store.
At that point, the top three food items were hot tamales, sloppy joes and tacos — in that order.
Then, in the 1978, Prince Sr. retired and the recipes sat, unused, until 2013.
In 2013, Chapman picked up the recipes and started experimenting with them with her sister and brother, Harold Prince. They would cook tacos or hot tamales and take them to neighbors who had tasted the original product to compare. Then, after a year of experimenting, it was time to take the food on the road.
Chapman said they started going to events like the Greater Flint Art Council’s “Taste Festival,” where people would try different foods and then vote on what they liked, thus forming the menu for Mr. Prince Gourmet.
They started out selling hot tamales, tacos, tostados and sloppy joes.
Since they began, though, the menu has evolved to include dishes like crunch wraps, turkey Reuben sandwiches and French fries.
In 2015, Mr. Prince Gourmet began inside a tent outside the Flint Farmers’ Market. By 2017, they’d grown and expanded into a food truck that still served outside the Market but also made appearances at various events.
During this time, Chapman was still working as a pharmacy technician, so much of this experimenting happened when she got home from work.
Chapman has lived in Flint her whole life. She went to Parkland Elementary, Emerson Intermediate, Emerson High School and then she graduated from Flint Northern High School.
Chapman went on to get her bachelor’s and master’s in public health from Walden University.
Now, since she retired in 2019, she is fulfilling her dream of sharing her cooking with Genesee County.
“This is my dream,” she said. “It’s a little bit more work than I expected . . . the community has been just so supportive, almost overwhelming.”
Chapman said their most popular food item on the menu is the gourmet tacos. The recipe, though a well-kept secret, is one that involves 17 different seasonings blended together and put on a shelf for at least 14 days before being used. Then, the spices are used to create a ground turkey taco with a hard corn shell, topped with homemade pico de gallo, lettuce and cheese.
The hot tamales, which are the foundation of Mr. Prince Gourmet, are made with ground beef.
Chapman said she has altered the taco recipe a little bit since she first started making it in 2013, but that the hot tamale recipe has stayed exactly the same as how they were made by Prince Jr. in the 50s.
Her business moved inside the Market in April of 2023, with freshly painted bright green walls and their familiar taco logo.
“If you want to start a business, this is the place, you know, to launch, to start, so our community can begin to grow,” she said. “As long as we support one another’s [businesses] . . . we just rising up to the top.”
At the end of the day, Chapman said she doesn’t have any set goals for Mr. Prince Gourmet, but she is hoping one of her grandkids might be interested in taking over the family business in the future.
The gourmet food
The name Mr. Prince Gourmet came from the original name of the grocery store Chapman’s grandpa ran, but Chapman decided to add the word ‘gourmet’ because she said it’s a great presentation and a great taste all in one.
“Gourmet is pretty food and food that makes you smile. Food that just makes you want to eat more and more,” she said.
Recently, Chapman said they started cooking with Impossible plant-based meat. In the kitchen, they have a separate, color-coded area for plant-based meat and vegetarian cooking.
The lettuce and all of the products used to make the pico de gallo are purchased in the farmers’ market, Chapman said.
And every day at 6 a.m., Chapman is in her kitchen, gospel music blasting, chopping up the ingredients for the day. All fresh, all locally sourced.
“In the morning, I get up and, you know, cut all this stuff up and make sure it’s fresh,” she said. “That’s why when you bite into it, it’s just that fresh flavor.”
For Harry Prince Jr., who is now 81, the man who started it all, Chapman said he tells her how proud he is of her, even though he now lives in Florida.
“He is very pleased that we are carrying the legacy, continuing with the products as well,” she said.