Known just as much for her infectious laughter as her soul food, Elaine Buie — owner and cook at Elaine’s Grill in downtown Sanford for several years — died unexpectedly at her home on Sunday. She was 53.

Buie opened Elaine’s Grill in a small brick building on South Horner Boulevard over six years ago, according to her cousin, Beverly Wicker. The grill was popular for out-of-towners looking for good soul food in the area, and most who came by ordered by take-out because of the restaurant’s lack of space.

“She was very passionate about cooking,” said Wicker. “She used to take care of both of her parents, and after she lost her mother to cancer, her next step was doing something for herself. She really loved the restaurant and meeting everyone because of it.”

Wicker said Buie’s family has been pleasantly overwhelmed by the show of support from the community since Sunday. People who didn’t know Buie personally were impacted by her business, she said.

“You didn’t have to know her well,” she said. “Once you met her, you instantly knew what kind of person she was. She never met a stranger.”

Longtime friend Margaret Murchison, who shared news of Buie’s death on her radio program on WWGP Monday, said she’ll miss her friend’s laughter and bumping into her at Piggly Wiggly, where she usually started her day before getting to the restaurant.

“She made my day lots of times,” Murchison said. “But we should not cry because she is gone.  We should smile because we knew her.  Elaine will probably take over all of the cooking behind the Pearly Gates.  Her mom was also a great cook, and when you put the two together in another world, all of the angels will probably have an obesity problem.”

Wicker said no plans have been made for the future of Elaine’s Grill.