While there may be many Durham restaurants that serve such home-cooked specialties as oxtail, smothered and fried pork chops and pig’s feet, few claim that their food is “anointed.”
That is the claim that JC’s Kitchen on East Main Street makes, the motto of the family owned and operated restaurant is “Where the food is anointed… You won’t be disappointed.”
JC’s Kitchen, which stands for Jesus Christ’s Kitchen. Is a Southern food landmark and meeting place for many in its neighborhood.
The restaurant is housed in a long building that stands alone at the intersection of Fayetteville and E. Main Streets.
The side facing Fayetteville is decorated with a mural depicting the eateries slogan and images of the various Southern fare it provides. “This place has been here for a long, long time. Even all the way back to the 50’s,” said owner, operator and occasional cook Phyllis Terry.
Terry’s family has owned the restaurant for decades, originally called Lee’s Family Restaurant, but he says her sister remade it into what it is today. “
Terry’s sister, Sheilah Lee, changed the name 12 years ago to JC’s, after a dispute among the family members who helped run the business.
“There were some disagreements, you know how it is when family is in business together. But, my sister took charge and decided to change the name to JC’s to honor Jesus,” said Terry.
After her sister’s death from cancer in 2008, Terry returned from 18 years of mission work in Japan to take over where Sheilah left off.
“I wanted to keep the restaurant open in her memory and continue to feed the souls of people just like she did,” said Terry.
Michael Oldham, a resident of Chapel Hill who works in Durham, said the atmosphere and the people of JC’s is what has kept him coming back for over 10 years.
“It’s different from McDonalds’ or Hardee’s because every time I come in here, I always get treated kindly, no matter if they’re having a bad day,” said Oldham. He said that there is no place like JC’s that he’s found.
Damen Holland, another regular, lives just down the street from JC’s. He said the homemade food and welcoming atmosphere makes it a special place.
“It’s quality food, and they treat you just like family. It’s a great place in the neighborhood,” said Holland.
JC’s not only provides food to its customers, but fellowship and assistance to the community as well. “We feed the souls and minds of people from the haves to the have-nots. We have city workers here, church meetings, private groups, every type of person,” said Terry. She also describes the restaurant as a common ground for the downtown and uptown, a mixing pot of people who work in the skyscrapers and those who live nearby.
Terry also says that being on the edge of downtown Durham, she has seen the change in the city over the years. “Durham has a whole new face. We’ve started drawing all races, creeds and religions,” said Terry. The change is apparent from a new housing development directly across the street from JC’s where she says there used to be nothing.
Terry believes that despite the changes, JC’s can still play an important role in the community. “Our concept is that we want to be a marketplace, a community gathering place for all to come and enjoy fellowship,” said Terry.
She says that outreach is a vital part of what the restaurant is about — from feeding those who need a meal to encouraging students who come in to study to continue with their educations.
According to Terry, helping is important, but she also tries to shift the mentality of those she reaches out to.
“When people come in looking for food I try to give and teach. To not just give you a handout, but to teach you how to take your hand and get your own,” said Terry.
Sitting down at his table, Holland remarked to Terry, “Ever since you got me to try those ribs, I’ve just been stuck on them.” After spending time there, it’s easy to see why residents in Durham have also stuck onto JC’s Kitchen food and its owner.