The soul food restaurant Jackie’s Place in San Jose rises from the ashes – in a new, bigger location

For the story of chief entrepreneur Jackie Jackson, read the painted-word poetry wall at her new San Jose restaurant, Jackie’s Place.

There’s “Hondo, TX,” the birthplace of Jackson, and so many family recipes. And “(408) BELIEVE” for San Jose, where she graduated from Piedmont Hills High School and, after a few years, took root in Santa Barbara. Words to live by: “Don’t forget your roots”, “#BLM” and “Don’t be eye candy, be soul food”. Homage to her mother and grandmother’s desserts, which are very popular on the menu: “Lavernes Sweet Potato Pie” and “Mama Frankie’s Buttermilk Pie”.

And above all: “It’s a family thang.”

After a difficult year of losing her Sixth Street restaurant first to the COVID-19 shutdown and then to a fire last May, Jackson has emerged in large, spacious trenches with a new restaurant. The address has been a long-time favorite on the San Jose dining scene: 840 N. First St.

We met with this caterer to learn about her culinary history, read the soul food and barbecue menu and find out what she has planned for this next chapter. (Spoiler alert: Jambalaya is coming.)

The barbecue ribs with potato salad and beans and chicken & waffle with strawberries have a large fan base at Jackie’s Place in San Jose. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)

Q: Who first inspired you to cook?

A: I’ve never had vocational training per se, but I learned from a professional. I’ve cooked since I was around 8 years old. I was tutored by my mother, Laverne Ford, who was a chef for most of her adult life. She had a present in the kitchen. Everything she made tasted amazing and looked beautiful. (As a kid, I also enjoyed watching cooking shows with Julia Child and Yan Can Cook!)

We had a big family and therefore big family get-togethers. Food was at the forefront of our lives and cooking was the activity that my mother and I did together. She not only taught me to cook, but also to cook for large groups of people. I ended up raising eight children, which was one of the best skills I could ever learn. I don’t think I can cook for less than six people!

Q: You built a catering career before opening your first brick and mortar business in 2018. What kind of events?

A: My first official catering job 27 years ago was for a high school graduation ceremony hosted by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sisterhood. It was for 300 guests and I managed to pull it off by myself in a small kitchen in the Alum Rock banquet hall. I started caring for close friends and family, then their co-workers and co-workers, and eventually my business and client list grew to include companies like TiVo, the San Francisco 49ers, the City of San Jose, and the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

Q: They are a rarity: they reopened in a larger room during the pandemic. How did North First Street come about?

A: After last year’s fire, we had to take the time to regroup and figure out what our next steps would be. In all honesty, we weren’t sure how to move forward, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Our Japantown location was condemned and reopening did not seem an option.

One day one of our employees answered and told us that there was a building available for rent on North First Street. I hesitated but decided to check it out anyway. The moment I walked into the building, I knew this place was going to be the new Jackie’s Place. The owners of the place, Louis and Effie Pappas, greeted me with open arms! They were sweet, accommodating, and comforting. You don’t meet people like that all the time.

It wasn’t until I met with them that I realized that I had actually been to this place before. It used to be the Bold Knight Restaurant, and my church was having a Christmas gala in the banquet hall. My mother, who was suffering from dementia at the time, was present. She barely spoke, but as I was walking through the restaurant with the Pappas family, I realized that this was where my mother sang her last solo.

Everything became clear to me. I had to open again! Not just to carry on their legacy, but to create a place where memories are made. A place my children and their children would be proud of. A place where the community can become part of the JP family.

SAN JOSE – APRIL 8: The peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream at Jackie’s Place in San Jose. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)

Q: What is your pride and joy dish?

A: I take pride in all of my dishes and make each one with love, but one of my favorite dishes is smothered chicken – not just because it’s saturated with sauce, but because it brings me back to those family gatherings. That’s what Soul Food is all about. It’s the kind of food that should bring you comfort.

Q: Someone is coming to your restaurant for the first time. What should you order?

A: The best of both worlds combination plate. The name says it all. We specialize in soul food and grilling. So why not both? They also have two sides – you have a choice of macaroni and cheese, candied yams, cabbage vegetables, fried corn, potato salad, corn bread, or many more options. When it comes to desserts, our banana pudding and sweet potato tart are second to none.

Q: Are there any new items on the menu on North First Street?

A: We now serve chicken, waffles, and oxtails every day. We have added appetizers, soups, sandwiches and drinks in the bar and we will be adding fried green tomatoes, jambalaya and shrimp hush pups very soon.

Q: What advice would you give to other women of color with entrepreneurial dreams?

A: I am a Christian and I honestly believe that everything in life happens according to God’s plan. I could have walked away after the pandemic and fire in 2020, I could have counted my losses and not been able to meet with the Pappas family … but if I had really taken a moment to think about it, all of these things would be needed to me to bring me there today.

My newfound model is the advice I would give: “For every setback, God makes a big comeback.” If you are passionate about your craft and love what you do, don’t let difficulties bring you down. Keep this dream and carry on!

Details: Open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for al fresco dining and take away. Look for socially distant indoor restaurants scheduled to start in late May. 840 N. First St., San Jose. 408-490-4653; www.jackiesplacesj.com

Banana pudding is a top seller at Jackie’s Place. Order it to eat outside or buy it ready-to-go from the front counter. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)

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