By Kevin Revolinski | Photography by Hillary Schave
Jodie Jefferson moved to Madison in 2017 from her hometown of Chicago for a paid job relocation with Payless Shoes. But soon after she arrived, the company suddenly shut down. She found other work, but Jefferson, who had an extensive background in catering, returned to cooking food. Initially, she did so out of her home.
“That led to too many people being on my block,” she laughs.
In August 2021, she opened House of Flavas, a fast-food restaurant inside a Capitol Petro Mart on the East Side. The menu offers “everyday Chicago food” — gyros, chicken, burgers with fresh-cut fries, and some outstanding catfish. On weekends she hosts soul-food gatherings just like her grandma used to.
“When I was a little girl, my grandma [also] owned a restaurant and everyone in the family helped out,” says Jefferson. “If anything was going on, they always called on my mom or grandmother to cook.”
The same rings true for House of Flavas: one of Jefferson’s daughters, Jakala Ware, works there full-time, and her mother, Mary McKinley, comes up on occasion from Chicago to assist.
“[It’s] generations of women cooking in the kitchen,” she notes.
The restaurant gets a lot of traffic, but she’s still catering as well. Every year before the holidays, Jefferson plans a special to-go catering menu for those who don’t want to cook. All of the recipes she uses are from her mother and grandmother, but Jefferson puts her own spin on them.
“When we’re cooking in the kitchen together, [my mom] goes, ‘That doesn’t go in there!’ I just tell her that I took her recipes and added my twist to them and gave them a little more flavor.” And each generation adds something different, she adds. “I’m sure my daughter will go and tweak things her way too.”