“A home away from home”: Jennifer’s Edibles celebrates hard work

Jennifer+and+William+Eason+stand+behind+the+counter+at+Jennifer%E2%80%99s+Edibles.+William+Eason+said+the+restaurant+is+experiencing+its+most+successful+year+yet.

Maia Spoto/The Daily Northwestern

Jennifer and William Eason stand behind the counter at Jennifer’s Edibles. William Eason said the restaurant is experiencing its most successful year yet.

Maia Spoto, Assistant City Editor

Bags of produce and ingredients line the counter, and Jennifer and William Eason are busy preparing orders. They chop celery and check on the fish. The lighting is warm, and television plays softly in the background. Red tables and chairs pop against shelves of family cookware. Bold paintings adorn the walls, proclaiming “we are the change that we seek” and “fight poverty, NOT the poor.”

Jennifer’s Edibles operates out of 1623 Simpson St., a historic site of political engagement for the 5th Ward that William Eason called “The 1623 Club.” Photographed portraits in the building’s basement tell the story of meetings that focused on a range of political issues, spanning the past century and continuing today.

Founding owner Jennifer Eason has cultivated Jennifer’s Edibles into a community establishment. A few months ago, her brother William Eason joined the team as her managing partner.

“It’s like a home away from home,” Jennifer Eason said. “Everybody comes here.”

The restaurant specializes in home-cooked dishes like macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and fish. It also caters for local families and restaurants. William Eason said he and Jennifer are currently celebrating their business’ most successful year to date.

Jennifer Eason, who started cooking for her family when she was seven years old, trained with Sunshine Enterprises entrepreneurship program and evolved her restaurant from a home-based catering service to a brick-and-mortar business three years ago. Northwestern’s student-run microfinance organization, Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development, supported her transition. Jennifer’s Edibles will soon incorporate a Wildcard discount for Northwestern students.

She said knowing how to cook and knowing how to run a business are two entirely separate skill sets.

“(Being an entrepreneur) is probably one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life,” she said. “I am a Christian, and I believe in God; I have faith, but this goes way, way beyond.”

Every day presents its own challenges, Jennifer Eason said. Whether she’s handling a wave of orders or dealing with administrative details like certificates and training, she said she stays motivated because “failure is not an option.”

She said her brother’s areas of expertise complement her own. William Eason manages social media, marketing and external relationships.

“I like the challenge of trying to grow the business,” he said. “I can’t take my sister looking stressed. I can count on Jennifer to do what she needs to do, and she can count on me to do what I need to do. We get each other’s backs consistently, and we hold each other accountable.”

In addition to providing a home base for the community, Jennifer Eason said her restaurant serves customers regardless of their ability to pay. The restaurant also collaborates with local groups to provide meals for the homeless community.

To continue 1623 Simpson St.’s legacy of political engagement, Jennifer’s Edibles serves and hosts meetings for the E-Town Sister Circle and the BLACK MEN’s group.

Meleika Gardner, a member of the E-Town Sister Circle and owner of Evanston Live TV, said she eats Jennifer’s catfish at least once every week. Her mother, Fran Joy, painted the portraits hanging over the restaurant’s counter.

She said Jennifer and William Eason’s hard work amazes her, and that their comfort soul food is a source of community pride.

“I just love seeing stories like that, of families sticking together to make a vision come together and stay alive,” she said. “They are a true brother-sister team.”

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