Jacari Cousins is in the process of moving his family’s restaurant business, Jay’s Southern Cafe from Jacumba to the former Dickie’s BBQ shop in Alpine.
Now six years in at their Jacumba location, Cousins, who describes Alpine as a “busier town” says the family had talked about moving all the way to San Diego proper but with prohibitive rents, decided to listen to Alpiners who asked them to move closer to the mountain town.
Along with moving, he said, they’re taking the opportunity to revamp the menu while keeping the “soul food” feel.
“We’re going to be changing things up a bit from our current restaurant because this kitchen is much bigger so we can do more. We will be dropping some of the breakfast items but work some in as some brunch items with the things people loved from breakfast like our cheesy grits. Something like that, you can have with brisket, or chicken and waffles that everyone loves,” Cousins said.
The family is likely going to return to having “Soul Food Saturdays,” he said, with homemade gumbo, red beans and rice, catfish, pork chops
There are some people who really love their pork chops, Cousins said, along with po’boys and “a bit more comfort food”.
He makes a clear distinction between soul food: “that is going to hit your soul, make you feel good” and southern food.
“When people think of southern food they think of greasy and unhealthy but soul food doesn’t have to be unhealthy and definitely doesn’t signify greasy. It is all fresh food, cooked daily,” Cousins said.
He casually mentions the fact that he graduated from culinary school and worked at San Francisco’s historic St. Francis hotel as a sous chef before opening his first restaurant at 26. Less casually, he quickly sums up that the place was robbed and, feeling violated, he closed up shop and put the restaurant business on the back burner. “In San Francisco, I went to school on a full scholarship but the one thing people don’t ever tell their children when they come out of college is that sometimes experience outweighs your education. I was starting at the bottom with people who didn’t even have culinary degrees. There’s a lot of things you learn over time but it takes a while,” Cousins said.
Now on his third restaurant, he said people “questioned why I would open up a restaurant in Jacumba but people eat everywhere and if you’ve got good food, they will come”.
Similarly, he said, some regulars questioned why he would attempt to move the successful business to Alpine during a pandemic and push for success against the odds of making a major restaurant move during a pandemic and attempting to turn a profit in the upcoming months of economic recovery.
“Well, my destiny is not predicated on what’s around me. You’ve got to stay focused on your goals,” Cousins said.
Besides, he said, sometimes timing just works out the right way as it did with the barbecue shop’s owner who was initially disinterested in bringing in a new tenant but ultimately took a call from Cousins at “the right time” on a tip from a friend.
“We asked if he was interested in having another barbecue place in there
and… well, there was some negotiating but we’re in and it is going to be perfect in this busier town with close knit families. There are a lot of new customers that will happen,” Cousins said.
Those new customers can look forward to coming into Jay’s Southern Cafe in Alpine by the end of June, he said.
The new eatery will be located at 2165 Arnold Way.