Contributions are piling up in the GoFundMe account, but Jackie Booker Griffin’s trying not to pay attention.
“I can’t look,” said the owner of the East Knoxville restaurant she named Jackie’s Dream. “I start to cry every time I do.”
The account was set up by friend and customer Scott Scheinbaum to help Griffin relocate to a building with a bigger kitchen and more prep space than she’s got in the little pink building at 2223 McCalla where she’s been since March 6, 2015.
“It’s not that I have to leave – we’ve just outgrown this building. Everything that happens here happens in that little box right there,” Griffin said, pointing to the tiny kitchen where her partner, George Pilcher, cranks out hot chicken and meatloaf and pork chops and mashed potatoes and collards and yams. Her son Charles Bailey comes in to help on the weekends.
“Our customer base is growing and it’s just not enough to serve like we want to. “It’s bittersweet that I’m leaving my community, but it’s not far,” Griffin said.
If all goes well, by this time next month, Griffin and Pilcher will be cooking at a new location a couple of miles northwest of McCalla – 1008 East Woodland, a block off Broadway across the street from Fulton High School and the old St. Mary’s complex that nobody calls Physician’s Regional, its most recent proper name. She likes the new space with its big kitchen.
“Some of my customers knew I’d been looking around, but everywhere they were trying to put us didn’t seem neighborhoodish to me. Then one of them saw this place, and I really liked the way it’s set up. It’s a diner/café style that will give us that homey feeling.
“It’s a bittersweet thing that I’m leaving from my community, but it’s not that far, and it’s a neighborhood place. I don’t know how many customers have told me, ‘Ms. Jackie, I can walk to your new place now.”
So, Griffin’s customers are her friends, and she can’t remember a time when she didn’t know how to cook for friends.
“Even back at home in Oak Ridge there was always a gathering of friends at my house, ’cause I was always the one cooking,” she said. “When the holidays came, everybody knew I was cooking.”
Early on, cooking and basketball were neck and neck in her life – her first job was cooking at Buddy’s Bar-B-Que in Oak Ridge, and then Buddy’s on Bearden Hill and then Sawyer’s Chicken Fingers on 17th Street, Red Lobster and finally Crown and Goose in the Old City, where she learned the magic of using fresh herbs and spices to take her home cooking to another level.
But before all that, when she was Jackie Booker, she was the starting power forward on the Oak Ridge High School Wildcats basketball team and had been a hoopster since Girls’ Club days. Her AAU team won the nationals one year.
This might explain the relationship she has with athletes, and students in general. University of Tennessee athletes – basketball players, football players, track stars and even cheerleaders have been known to show up at Jackie’s Dream, and she figures they’ll be able to find her new location, as well.
But for now, she has to get back to work. There’s a lot that needs doing before the end of the month. And maybe she’ll take a peek at the GoFundMe page, which keeps inching its way up toward the $20,000 goal.