“Look at this,” says Jeanetha Brown-Douglas, peeking through the black and white sheer curtains of her soul food eatery. In the parking lot, a young man sits in his SUV, engine running and air-conditioning blasting, digging into a clamshell container holding a JBD Mobile Catering & Events fried catfish dinner.
“He couldn’t even wait till he got home,” says Brown-Douglas, visibly delighted. He’s not the only one to react this way to the catfish, she says, before wondering out loud what it must be about the dish that’s been driving her customers wild since she opened the doors to JBD Mobile Catering & Events’ brick-and-mortar location at 816 Hinton Ave. in Belmont two weekends ago. “I don’t use a lot of seasoning,” she says, “but I do cook with love.”
Love is what got Brown-Douglas, a lifelong Charlottesville resident, into food in the first place. Her grandmother cooked huge Sunday dinners not just for their family but for anyone who wanted a meal and some company. “She didn’t care who you were, you were invited to have a hot meal at her table,” says Brown-Douglas. Her grandmother’s greens were “to die for,” and nobody could wait until Sunday dinner to eat them—she and other kids in the family snuck into the refrigerator while their grandmother was at church.
Brown-Douglas now offers those same greens—kale and collards—on her menu, visible on the wall to the right of the counter that on this particular day (the Monday after Mother’s Day) is crowded by cards, a colorful bouquet of flowers and a large purple “Happy Mother’s Day!” Mylar balloon, given to Brown-Douglas by her children.
The menu, written in black and red dry erase marker on a white board, is broken up into sections: chicken (fried, gizzards, livers, tenders, etc.), drinks (soft drinks, water), dinners (chicken, whiting, catfish, pork ribs, chitterling and more, all served with two sides), desserts (cheesecake), sides (collards, kale, mac ’n’ cheese, sweet potatoes, etc.), salads. In blue, she’s written “Have a good day!” “You are loved!” and “Enjoy!” and drawn a few chubby hearts to accompany each note.
Most dishes are family recipes—including the catfish, her grandfather’s favorite—and she’ll offer rotating daily specials of longtime family favorites. Her prices are reasonable (nothing costs more than $11), and her portions generous.
Brown-Douglas opened her on-site eatery on May 12, but she’s been cooking in Charlottesville for years. She started off with UVA Dining and eventually began selling fried chicken at the Sunshine Mini Mart on Cherry Avenue. The chicken sold well, and she says that’s when she realized she could be a caterer. She took business classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College, signed up for the Community Investment Collaborative program and started her business, JBD Catering & Events.
She began catering for Piedmont Housing Alliance meetings and events and for concessions at Meade and Booker T. Washington parks, all while working out of shared kitchens—affordable kitchens are hard to come by (and expensive to maintain). The Hinton Avenue spot just happened to open up as she looked for her own kitchen.
But that’s not all. Inspired by her late mother, a longtime Charlottesville Parks and Recreation employee who for years boxed up Sunday dinner leftovers to feed children in after school and summer care programs, Brown-Douglas cooks for local kids’ programs, such as the Charlottesville and Culpeper KEYS academies and, two nights a week, for a dinner program at the Friendship Court Apartments.
So while Brown-Douglas believes that Charlottesville’s food and restaurant scene has long needed an eat-in place that offers the promise of a Sunday family meal—familiar food lovingly prepared—and she’s stepping up to fill that need, she says she’ll “never, ever change” the catering aspect of her business, even when her shop gains more customers in time. That’s where her heart is.