Meet the owners of Pecan Tree Cafe, Philly favorites, classic soul food
Kevin and Zakia Byard operate the Pecan Tree Cafe in the 200 block of West Market Street in York. Check out the oxtail and Broc N’ Salmon cheesesteak.
Growing up in West Philadelphia, Kevin Bayard, the youngest of nine children, spent hours in the kitchen with his mother, the late Mildred Bayard, where he would define his life’s work.
He fondly recalled the memories of his mother’s knife cutting the green vegetables.
“I still have the knife she had,” Bayard said.
He remembers waking up to the smell of sausage at his grandmother’s house in Jacksonville, Florida, during summer vacation.
In the backyard of her home stood a pecan tree. Nuts have been used for snacks and in pies and desserts.
And that pecan tree, once the backdrop of his grandmother’s home in Jacksonville, Fla., is now the namesake of his restaurant in York.
“Your preparation is everything”
His mother, who learned to cook from her stepmother, passed on the craft to each of her children.
“My mom got married and moved with my dad to Philadelphia in the 1950s, and my mom made a living cooking — people would come from all over town to buy her dishes,” Bayard said.
At age 18, Byard started a food truck business and eventually opened his own restaurant: Kevin’s Dine-in, at 52n.d A street in West Philadelphia where he worked side by side with his mother, selling Philadelphia cheesesteaks and a handful of soul dishes.
Working with his mother was difficult, and Bayard said she had an old-school mentality when she walked into that kitchen.
His wife, Zakia Byard, joked, “She didn’t play any games.”
“The way she prepared the food is a definite skill you have to have – your preparation is everything. All my brothers and sisters have this craft. We all learned by watching our mother cook,” he said.
Pecan Tree Cafe: “York needed a good sandwich”
Just over 10 years ago, Bayard met his wife and they moved to York, where he started working in transport.
“For years, I didn’t think I could find a good place to eat, and being from Philadelphia, there are always so many options,” he said.
The two have been talking about the idea of opening a restaurant for years, and the opportunity finally came in August 2022.
The owner of the previous restaurant, a Puerto Rican joint called El Yunque, decided to retire and sold the business to Byard.
“I said let’s go ahead and do it,” he said, and within a few months they were open, selling the food Byard knows best.
“York needed a place to make a good sandwich: here it needed a Philly cheesesteak.”
And if you know Philly cheesesteaks, you know it all starts with the roll.
“The bread is the most important part, so we use buns made in Philadelphia.”
Byard relies on Amoroso’s bread. He is so dedicated that he meets the delivery driver in Lancaster at 5am once a week to pick up fresh rolls.
“Without this bread, I wouldn’t even want to sell cheesesteaks.”
Pecan Tree Cafe offers steaks and chicken nuggets, as well as a variety of dinner options and sides, including oxtails, burgers, sweet potato pie, fried chicken, catfish and more.
They worked for several months to remodel the space and make it a family-friendly place where loved ones can come, listen to music and enjoy good, home-cooked food from the heart.
Although the building they currently operate out of – the former Li’s Kitchen – didn’t have the best reputation, they’re trying to change the narrative.
“This place has a certain history, so we’re trying to make a difference where the community can come in, feel safe and enjoy good food.”
Here’s what you should try:
Broc N’ Salmon Cheesesteak: One of Byard’s original creations, this cheesesteak is non-Philly, but full of flavor. The fresh roll is slathered with a light layer of mayo and topped with American cheese before it hits the grill. The toast is then filled with a whole fillet of cooked salmon and steamed broccoli. The sandwich is then hit with Byard’s signature secret sauce.
Oxtail: These Southern-style oxtails are hard to perfect, but the Byard’s have mastered the art of this dish, slow-cooked in a flavorful house-made gravy until they’re tender to the bone. Try them with a side of rice, beans, potato salad or vegetables.
Price: $20 (comes with two sides)
Baked Macaroni and Cheese: You’ll want to order 10 sides of this creamy, cheesy perfection. Baked Macaroni and Cheese is a comforting classic, with a golden cheesy crust and creamy base.
Price: $5 (topping)
Pecan Tree Cafe is located at 287 W. Market St., York
Lena Tsivekis is a reporter for Central Pa. Know a local restaurant she should check out? Email her at [email protected] or send her a message on Twitter at @tzivekis