SYCAMORE – Jerry Wright said he wants Betty Jean's Soul Food to be a place where people can "get some good food quick," enjoy camaraderie and remember some of their favorite meals from childhood.
"I hope to add some things that people may have grown up on but haven’t had in a while," Wright said. "I hope my cooking game is a step above theirs at home, so they can come out and have a semi-gourmet meal very quickly."
Wright, a pastor at The Rock Christian Church in DeKalb, said he plans to have Betty Jean's Soul Food open at 630 Plaza Drive in Sycamore within the next few weeks.
He said the process of starting his first restaurant has taken longer than expected, but he expects Betty Jean's will be ready for business once the last piece of the kitchen is installed and the restaurant passes inspections.
Wright said he always felt cooking was therapeutic, from the time he cooked with his mother and grandmother as a child to cooking for his own nine children as an adult.
"Growing up, cooking with my mother and my grandmother was always a way we shared time together," he said. "I would cut onions, peppers, pickles, whatever it was, and I was their sous chef."
Wright said he worked in catering for about 13 years, and he began thinking about starting a restaurant after hearing positive feedback from his soul food catering for a Kwanza event at Northern Illinois University.
He also won first place for his catfish and banana pudding entries in the 50 Men Who Cook fundraiser and began to consider the idea more seriously, he said.
The restaurant takes its name from Wright's late mother. He said he remembers trying to name all of the ingredients in a recipe while eating meals with his mother.
"My mother is Betty Jean; I thought it was a good old country name," Wright said. "As a matter of fact, when my mother was alive I was going to name it after my grandmother, Willie Mae."
The restaurant will offer carryout and indoor seating, and different soul food favorites will rotate on the menu, Wright said.
"What we decided to do was daily specials," he said. "So you can get catfish, pork chops and chicken any day of the week, but then there are going to be days when we have jerk chicken, oxtails, perch, tilapia, meatloaf, short ribs; in the summer we’ll be doing barbecue too."
Side dishes such as mac and cheese, corn bread, collard greens and candied yams also will be on the menu, and some specials may be added to the main menu based on popularity, Wright said.
"Soul food is food for the soul; it’s food that makes you feel good about just eating," he said. "You ain't thinking about how many pounds that put on you; you’re just thinking that made me feel great."