So my restaurant was on 14th and Jefferson, Nellie’s Place Soul Food with Soul, and I named it after my mother, Nellie. And I started cooking soul food. And people started coming. White people, Black people, Chinese people, all kinds of people. I was there 24 hours a day. I had a camper that was in the back in the parking lot, I lived in. And the reason being, because I cook from scratch. Collard, mustard greens, you had to pick them, soak them, cook your ham hocks or your smoked turkey prior, you know, before you put your greens in. Pies, sweet potato pie, buttermilk pie, possum pie, red velvet cake, butter pound cake, peach cobbler, six, seven layers. So you had to be there in order to prepare for the next day. And so that’s why I lived there 24 hours a day. And people would come from all over. And I had a bar there where you could sit in the bar and watch me cook, and that’s what they loved to do.
Where did you learn to cook?
My mama and daddy. Mostly my daddy, because my mama she only cooked twice a year. That was New Year’s and Thanksgiving. She made my daddy cook. Even after leaving Todd Shipyard and leaving our cleaners - Jackson Cleaners between 1st and 2nd and James, press while you wait - after we’d get home my daddy would have to cook. He’s the only man I know could cook a dinner in 30 minutes and it’d be ready. Fried chicken, candied yams, collards, mustard greens, you know. It'd be ready.
So that’s how Nellie’s started. And I was struggling to make it. I mean, whatever I made that day was the money that I paid the rent. A lot of people ask me, "JJ, how did you...?" I say, "Because of my mama. Because of a woman. Don’t ever forget that."