You might say that Jackie Podhurst, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was destined to own a restaurant. When she was young, she’d spend the weekends working at her family’s deli and grocery shop, and later, she honed her entrepreneurial skills by managing one of their restaurants. Still, it wasn’t until she gave birth to her son and was at a retail buying job in NYC that she seriously thought about returning to what she loved doing growing up. Her dream had always been to own a restaurant, and with Jackie & Son, a café, bakery, and juice bar in South Orange, Jackie is doing just that. Take one look at Jackie & Son’s menu, and you’ll see a nod to Jackie’s Palestinian heritage, like homemade pastries, mezze, Middle Eastern pitas, and American classics like omelets and sandwiches. We caught up with this very busy North Caldwell mama of four to find out about how the experience of being a buyer in retail helped her in doing her own thing, the deets on what’s next for her business, and the Montclair restaurant her family goes to that’s always welcoming—even when kids outnumber adults.
Tell us a little bit about your family. My husband, Jake, and I have four children together, Santino, 6; Gabriella, 3; Naseem, 20 months; and Lamees, 9. Jake was a principal at a charter school, but he left his job in 2008 to open up this business with me. I grew up in Little Falls, but after I got married, we lived in South Orange for 6 years but moved to North Caldwell to be closer to my family and for the excellent school system and dedicated teachers. We also like that there’s so much beautiful nature here, and it’s a nice, quiet place to call home.
Was there anything in your career background (or life) that’s proven helpful in this business? Ever since I was ten years old, I worked with my family on weekends at family-owned convenience stores and delis, so I learned how to be an entrepreneur at a young age. Having responsibilities and knowing the value of working hard and coming together to make ends meet taught me essential life lessons, which I hope to instill in my kids. I was an International Business major in college, and though I always knew entrepreneurship was in my future, I wanted to do something with my degree before pursuing my dream. I worked for Target as a General Manager and then as a Buyer for Macy’s online, but after I had my first child, I left my city job and concentrated on opening up Jackie & Son. I credit my buying experience for helping me to learn how to create a bigger experience. In a mom-and-pop business, it can be difficult to learn those skills, but working in a corporate environment helps you to think big to achieve results and grow your business.
Please share a story about a memorable customer. The award-winning actress and singer, Suzzanne Douglas, would come in for our best-selling French Toast with a side of Turkey Bacon often, and she’d always sing at her table, putting a smile on the face of everyone who passed by. She’d always tell me that life is short and we should all bring a smile to those around us as often as possible. She passed away about a year ago, and her passing left her mark on us, our employees, and our customers. She’s missed dearly, and carrying her positive energy forward in our business is important to us.
How supportive is your family? My husband and I are a great team. He handles front-of-house and operations, and I do all the cooking and creating. He transitioned from an education mindset to being a restaurateur, and he does it gracefully. And my siblings and I are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Our parents have always been in the grocery and deli business, and so are my two brothers. We all have different strengths, bring something different to the table, and are very supportive of each other.
How do you unwind after a particularly stressful day? I have 4 kids, including a newborn, so it’s nearly impossible to unwind, at least until I’m not feeding her as frequently. My life does revolve around my business, family, and cooking, and I find so much joy in doing what I do—I’m just glad I was able to make a career out of something I love so much.
What do you hope your children learn from seeing you run your business? Our kids have a lot more than we did when we were growing up, so it’s very important to me that they value hard work and appreciate all they have. I want them to work hand in hand with us so that they learn responsibility and see how passionate we are about this, and I want them to take that and put it into going after their dreams, no matter what career paths they wish to pursue in the future.
What’s next? We’re very excited about an upcoming project. We’re in the works to open up Jake & Daughters, a little market next to our business that’s more of a middle eastern market with frozen and fresh meals for families. It’s grab-and-go that’s oven-ready for dinner so that we can give them that evening food experience that we don’t do at Jackie & Son. This idea of a market came to me during the pandemic when we launched an online market, which we were able to grow through Instagram and social media—the business probably wouldn’t have made it through the pandemic without it. Good Morning America picked up what we were doing, which helped tremendously. I think the idea came to me because I worked in my family’s grocery business from a young age, which taught me how to find different ways to do things during difficult times.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? Local Coffee in Montclair is one of my favorites—their coffee is fantastic, and it’s located in an area of town near where I grew up, so it feels very nostalgic to me. It’s owned by a husband and wife duo, and they love their craft because everything is really good, and the service is the best. I’m also a big fan of The Able Baker in Maplewood. I’m crazy about their pastries. When I first launched my business, the owner, Julie, sent me a bouquet of beautiful flowers to welcome me to the neighborhood. It was such a special and unexpected gesture, and we have a great relationship to this day. Another place I enjoy is Raymond’s because the servers are always so welcoming, which isn’t always the case when the children in your party outnumber the adults.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. The kids love seeing the giraffes and the lions at the Turtle Back Zoo, and we always have a lovely day there. Also, Grandma’s and Grandpa’s home is always a hit. We have a big, extravagant meal, and the kids will play with cars, ride bicycles, and swim, weather permitting. Plus, they love to help Grandpa pick tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini from his garden.
What’s your best piece of advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? Go after something for the sake of passion, love, and excitement–take the passion that you have inside of you, light it up and run with it. Whatever you desire the most will shine through in your product.