Hometown hero: Angelic Jenkins breaks new ground on the local food scene

Soul food chef Angelic Jenkins checks on construction progress at the future Dairy Market food hall, where she and her husband, Charles, were the first tenants to sign a lease. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith Soul food chef Angelic Jenkins checks on construction progress at the future Dairy Market food hall, where she and her husband, Charles, were the first tenants to sign a lease. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith

Angelic Jenkins felt worried as she walked into the community meeting. A big development, Dairy Central, was getting started on Preston Avenue, and talk among folks in the adjoining, predominantly African-American neighborhood of 10th and Page had not been good. Charlottesville has a woeful history of displacing black residents, and this new place, they feared, would be just another chapter in that book.

“When the story first came out, there was a lot of backlash, especially on social media,” says Jenkins, 51, co-founder and -owner with her husband, Charles, of Angelic’s Kitchen and Catering. “A lot of my close friends who live there in the neighborhood were very negative. They said, ‘They’re going to come in here and take over the neighborhood, where there’s already nothing for us.’”

With a scheduled opening in early 2020, Dairy Market is poised to join the food hall trend, while also adding to Charlottesville’s growing reputation as a food and drink destination. Photo: Courtesy of Dairy Market

A lifelong Charlottesville resident, Jenkins felt differently, but she was afraid to express her opinion publicly. After years of operating her soul food business out of a truck, she was the first entrepreneur to sign a lease for the initial phase of the project, the Dairy Market food hall, an ambitious concept—and part of the larger Dairy Central development—led by Charlottesville’s Stony Point Design/Build. The Dairy Market is scheduled to open in the spring of 2020, with Starr Hill Brewery as an anchor tenant, according to the developer.

The Jenkins got in on the ground floor—609 square feet of it, to be precise—after hearing from Stony Point president Chris Henry, back in 2018. At the community meeting, Henry said that Dairy Central would be open to all, with a public space offering food from 18 vendors and live entertainment.

“Everyone is welcome—he made that very clear,” Jenkins says. “When I walked into that meeting and saw a lot of individuals who live in that neighborhood, it calmed my soul. When people saw me walk in, an African American woman who had the opportunity to open a restaurant there, I think it calmed their soul also.”

Jenkins has worked for 19 years as the head of HR for the DoubleTree by Hilton, but five years ago she and her husband bought a food truck and launched Angelic’s Kitchen. Her specialty is fried fish, a Southern staple she fell in love with as a child attending festivals with her mother.

“I was intrigued by all the tents and people selling food outdoors,” she says. “When I did my first festival, I got a head rush from it.”

She served some of the food left over from the event at a family gathering. “And they said, ‘Why don’t you sell some of these dinners?’ I did that for a couple of days and realized, oh my gosh, there’s a lot of money to be made. Then I decided, okay, I’m going to do this the legal way,” she says with a laugh.

She entered a program for entrepreneurs at the Community Investment Collaborative, received her catering license, and went on to rent a nearby commercial kitchen, Bread and Roses. At CIC she also found a manufacturer for her fish breading. She had it bagged so she could coat and cook fillets on the spot at festivals.

Those took place in the summer, but Jenkins wanted to extend her selling season, so in October 2018 she and Charles bought a food truck to make the rounds at local wineries and fall events. “Someone approached me at a festival and told me about some kind of building that would be opening on Preston Avenue in 2020,” Angelic says. “She gave me her card, but I thought nothing of it. But I saw the woman again, and she said, ‘We’re having a meeting about that project I mentioned.’”

She was heartened to see Chris Henry at the first meeting she attended. “He said, ‘Everyone in the neighborhood is welcome.’ That made me feel good. They want the local people involved.”

The Jenkins received a call from Henry’s office soon after the community meeting, and after hearing the details of the planned food hall, they signed a five-year lease.

Today, they’re awaiting approval of their architectural plans for their space in the Dairy Market, and Charles is speaking with retailers about selling Angelic’s Kitchen fish breading.

“The business is growing,” she says. “We’re just really excited about the opportunity to have our own place, so people have access to us every day, versus trying to catch us at the food truck.”

Jenkins’ fried fish will be the central menu item at the Dairy Market space, but other soul food—mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens, barbecue chicken quarters, and more—will be offered.

What I like most about [the Dairy Market] is that they’re focused on local entrepreneurs,” she says. “I never expected to have a restaurant. It’s a chance I can’t resist.”

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Berdell Fleming

Hope all goes well for you its a great neighborhood I was raised just blocks from there and there is no eatery that reflects our culture.