Mildred “Mama Dip” Council, Chapel Hill resident and founder of Mama Dip’s Kitchen at 408 W. Rosemary St., passed away Sunday at age 89 after a period of illness.
Mildred Council was born in 1929 and lived on a farm in Chatham County, N.C. She was the youngest of seven and nicknamed “Dip” by her family members due to her tall stature and her ability to “dip” into the rain barrels to get water. She worked at a number of places, including the Carolina Inn and different UNC fraternities, before she later started her own restaurant in 1976 with only $64.
Originally named Dip’s Country Kitchen, Council focused on serving Southern comfort food. The nickname “Mama Dip” was coined by basketball players Michael Jordan and James Worthy in the 1980s after they heard her children call her “Mama” in the kitchen. Mama Dip’s became a staple restaurant in the area and was featured in a 1985 New York Times article on Southern cuisine in North Carolina, where it was described as a “genuine, no-frills restaurant.”
“Mama Dip was one of the most humble people I have probably ever met,” said Johnny Cooper, a longtime server at Mama Dip’s.
Cooper said he regularly brought customers into the kitchen to speak with Mildred, who was instantly able to laugh and connect with them. He remembered one day when he introduced her to someone who had come all the way from California who said he was excited to be meeting a celebrity.
Mildred Council then told the customer, “Sir, I’ve never heard of a celebrity that had to peel their own carrots.”
“She was a good soul, and she loved everybody,” Cooper said.
Mildred Council is survived by her children and grandchildren, and many of them continue to be involved with the restaurant. Her daughter Spring Council is currently the manager of Mama Dip’s.
Tonya Council, Mildred Council's granddaughter, said that she also admired Mama Dip's ability to prioritize her family and those around her while also running a business.
“The restaurant was a big accomplishment, but she also used it to help others,” Tonya Council said. “She really used the restaurant as her platform for giving back.”
Since the announcement of her passing, the Mama Dip’s Kitchen Facebook page has been filled with stories of those who visited her restaurant.
Sharon Elliott, an Asheboro resident, said she would drove all the way to Chapel Hill to eat at Mama Dip’s. She would see Mildred sitting at the booth of the restaurant and would stop to talk to her. Elliot remembered showing up at the restaurant with Mildred’s cookbook one day. The kitchen staff took her to the back, where Mama Dip was peeling potatoes.
“She came out of the kitchen and signed my cookbook,” Elliot said.
Mildred Council was also well known for her involvement in the Chapel Hill community and would regularly give back to underprivileged families. She co-hosted an annual community dinner with Nerys Levy, a local artist. The event was designed to showcase the cultural diversity throughout Orange County.
Tonya Council said that even though there have been a lot of recent changes in Chapel Hill, she hopes that her grandmother and the restaurant have built up enough of a community to sustain the business after her passing.
“Even though she passed, we opened the next day as she would want us to,” Tonya Council said. “We’re going to do our best to keep the legacy going.”
Mildred Council's family has requested that those who wish to give flowers instead donate to the Mama Dip Share the Love Fund through the Triangle Community Foundation, which is meant to inspire underprivileged youth. Her memorial service is open to the public and will be held Sunday, May 27, at 3 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Bible Church.
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