African American Black Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Too many J's

JJ's opened three months before I graduated from high school in 1985. I worked my way through culinary school as a waitress, busboy, dishwasher, and eventually bookkeeper for the previous owner of the building. When he had health problems and needed to be hospitalized, I agreed to run it until he recovered from surgery. Mr. Jonas was the sweetest boss I had ever worked for. He and his wife were the original JJs, John and Jordan, and their children hated the restaurant business. The name was theirs first. I realized how much they could teach me. I saw her order food on a shoestring budget, and after the restaurant was afloat, she never changed her methods. They set up 401k's for everyone and matched your yearly pay-in once a year on your birthday.

At Christmas, they would adopt two families for the Holiday. They would ask the staff if we knew of any deserving families, and one year, we helped four families because ten days before Christmas, their building was sold. The new owner raised their rent by $550, due immediately. Knowing that the residents would not be able to pay, they evicted them; the Jonas family relocated all four families and still provided Christmas, too.

Mr. Jonas lost his battle with lung disease in February, just before he turned 65. JJ's was his father's wedding gift to him and Jordan, who loved cooking, socializing, and entertaining. She could not bear to set foot in the restaurant after his passing. I applied for a loan to purchase JJ's from Jordan for $250,000.00 by Valentine's Day in 2001. After I was approved for the loan, Jordan agreed to sell JJ's to me if I would agree to the following terms:

1.       I had to keep JJ in the name.

2.       I had to keep the current staff on.

3.       I had to continue the 401k matching

4.       I had to continue adopting families for Christmas and

5.       I had to promise to get a life outside of the restaurant

Jordan's only regret was that they had spent their best years building and running the restaurant instead of enjoying themselves after it was self-sustainable. Jordan designed JJ's operating system into a two-keystroke majestic dynamo for someone who never attended culinary or any higher education after her senior year in high school. All of the reordering could be done in minutes. Payroll for the employees began running at 4 a.m. Then, at 5, the bills were automatically sent to each vendor, and promptly at 6, the printer started up with the paper trail, printing paychecks and envelopes. It left nothing for Jordan to do but sign, seal, and deliver each physical payment and deposit.

A month after selling JJ's to me, Jordan surprised me with four gifts:

1.       The deed of ownership

2.       A brand-new sign that renamed JJ's to JJ's Bar and Grill

3.       My original Birth Certificate

4.       A letter from the founders

Year one was the hardest…

Older women would say, "Too many cooks in the kitchen would spoil the soup." I didn't understand that analogy until I married my long-time coworker, the sous chef JJ. Imagine James Jr. announcing his upcoming nuptials to June Jacobson or, visa-versa, JJ to marry JJ. He often told new staff he had to know who beat him to his dream copyright and restaurant name in Virginia. JJ's Bar and Grill was all I could see in my mind's eye since I received an Easy Bake oven at 6 for Christmas. The initial meeting was no doubt hostile and awkward. It's hard to be angry and fascinated at the exact moment you meet your doppelganger, better half, or counterpart. So, hoping to have an opportunity to steal the restaurant from someone while they slept, he applied for the sous chef position.

That was twenty-seven years and two sets of twins ago. Juliet and John Z. the Third were born ten months after the wedding. Julia and Julian came along eleven months later. I'm not the eighteen-year-old 'green menace' from 1985's graduating high school senior class I was when our paths first collided. However, I was ten years his junior. 

Ten years to the day after the sign went up, Jordan passed.

After working together for Jordan during my culinary school days, John Zachary Jackson Junior realized he would never be second in charge, even if he outlived me. Jordan's last gift was to give JJ's Bar and Grill to our twins equally; the older set each own thirsty percent, and the younger children own twenty percent each. So, if anyone wants to sell their share, they must divide it equally until they have children. I nor their father can ever own, buy, or sell JJ's Bar and Grill. If we divorce or die, John Z. II or June J. can't make any decisions about its dissolution. Being the shrewd businesswoman Jordan was, she pegged him as a potential threat when he walked in for the interview. She liked confidence in those who worked at JJ's, but there was something about him, and I was asked to do a background check on him immediately. As Jordan had thought, she asked me to do genealogy tests on my oldest twins, who now work with us at JJ's. He was the son of their first partner's sidepiece. When I met the first partner's wife, she grilled Jordan about how they caused her husband's heart attack. Being a woman of distinction, loyalty, and faith, Jordan allowed the wife to release her anger on her and never mentioned his affair or other children. 

Angered about the restaurant, my husband, John "Zac" Jackson Jr., broke away and started a rival restaurant. Unfortunately, happy ever after wasn't in the cards for us. He killed himself in a car outside of "Jay's" on Thursday, April 1, 2010, April Fool's Day, after discovering that the "Jay's" restaurant was being foreclosed. I'm Jordan's long-lost daughter; that is another whole story to explain another time. Our children have owned JJ's Bar and Grill since birth.

September 29, 2023 20:18

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Mary Bendickson
04:28 Oct 01, 2023

Yes, too many J's.😜


Kimberly Walker
07:13 Oct 19, 2023



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