Jackson Soul Food, a beloved Miami restaurant that serves Southern comfort food, will make its debut on Ocean Drive on Thursday.
The business has been serving Southern comfort food to hungry Miami residents since 1946, first in Overtown, then with new locations in Opa-locka, Hard Rock Stadium and Miami International Airport. But its introduction to South Beach will be a little different, said Antwon Wimberly, the eldest son of Jackson Soul Food matriarch Shirlene Ingraham.
The new restaurant, at 1330 Ocean Drive, is Wimberly’s project. He’s calling it J950/Jackson Soul Food — a mixture of his own brand and the restaurant’s distinctive label. Instead of the quiet, family-oriented atmosphere, patrons to the new restaurant should expect more South Beach flavor — and a full bar.
“When you think of Jackson Soul Food, you think family and home cooking,” Wimberly said. “With my brand, you’ll have a more vibrant crowd. A younger crowd…. You walk in and you can feel it. That’s the kind of atmosphere you’ll get.”
Wimberly is no stranger to the restaurant business. He said he’s been working at Jackson Soul Food since “before I could think.” But making it to South Beach is special. For one, it’s his first major project through J950, which he named to honor Jackson’s Overtown location at 950 NW 3rd Ave.
Also, Wimberly sees it as a path to his mother’s early retirement, though he admitted Ingraham is decidedly not on board.
“I tell her ‘Mom sit down!’ But she just loves the kitchen. Only way to get her out of the kitchen is to take her on vacation,” Wimberly said.
Ingraham, 57, is known to spend her days in the Overtown restaurant. Her smothered liver, fried chicken and country-style turkey wings could make a convert out of a health nut, if only for supper. And that’s the legacy that Wimberly hopes to preserve, even with expansion to Ocean Drive.
“We definitely have to keep that same taste that everybody loves. We don’t want people to say ‘Oh, it’s on South Beach. It don’t taste like the one in Opa-locka or Overtown. It’s watered down.’ No we don’t want that,” he said.
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Wimberly is taking over a large portion of The Venue, a space located at the mixed-use Netherland hotel. The Venue is owned by former general manager of the King of Diamonds strip club, Akinyele Adams, and Troy Johnson.
They contacted Wimberly about bringing in Jackson Soul Food a year ago but only in the last few months did “everything start to make sense,” Johnson said.
So what happens when three black men introduce soul food to Ocean Drive? South Beach gets a little more welcoming to black visitors, Johnson said.
“On Ocean Drive, as a black person we don’t have our own vibe. We don’t have our own feel,” he said. “We’re creating our vibe and inviting the public into our world. This is us getting a chance to show Miami Beach how we relax and everybody is welcome.”
J950/Jackson Soul Food will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m. after a grand opening Thursday at 2 p.m. Customers will be greeted with smells foreign to South Beach: fried catfish, collard greens, black-eyed peas and okra.
Wimberly said it’ll be a departure from the usual, but he’s vying for success.
“Hey, only way you know is to give it a try,” he said.