For almost two decades, the people of Madison have enjoyed Melly Mel’s Soul food whether it be fried or baked chicken, catfish, rib tips, black-eyed pea, greens, mac and cheese, baked beans, cabbage & kale, candied yams, green beans, banana pudding, cornbread, and more. Carmell Jackson created Melly Mell’s to satisfy Madison’s soul food cravings and help keep African-American culture and cuisine alive.
The longtime staple in the Madison community is now hoping for a little help from that community as she tries to grow her business.
“I had an incredibly busy Black History Month, and I was having a very difficult time transporting stuff with my vehicle,” she tells Madison365.
Jackson has been using an old Ford Explorer for her deliveries for many, many years but due to a variety of factors, but mainly because of COVID-19, she found herself in need of a bigger vehicle.
“Because of the pandemic, we have to do everything differently now. Because we have to individually pack up things now, it takes up so much room,” Jackson says. “If I have a party of 50, I have to make 50 to-go plates or bowls and they have to be sealed. So they’re a little bigger and a little different. To put them in the containers to keep them warm, you only can get like 10, maybe 12 in each container. So if I have 50, look at how many containers I’m going to have to carry.
“Sun Praire [School District] wanted 200 dinners recently. It took three vehicles to get the food out there. UW Athletics needed 100 dinners, and we got them there, but we had no space for people,” Jackson adds, laughing. “It’s been a problem.”
Finally, it reached the point where Jackson’s daughter and daughter-in-law tried to convince her to do a GoFundMe to purchase a van to transport her food and accessories. So far the fundraiser has raised about $1,600 of its $10,000 goal.
“I am proud to say that I started this business on my own and haven’t asked for help before. I had never taken out a loan for my business before … never had a fundraiser like this. This is new to me,” Jackson says. “Because I’m not one to ask for donations and stuff like that. So, they had to really talk me into it.”
During a crazy Black History Month work schedule, it was not something Jackson had time to do on her own.
“Because we had so much love over this Black History Month, I was booked every day and so busy that I just couldn’t get a fundraiser set up,” Jackson says. “I’m just exhausted at this point after such a busy month. So my daughter-in-law got it set up and put it out there for me.”
Melly Mel’s started out as a deli and then a restaurant and catering business in the basement of Genesis Enterprise Center on Madison’s south side. The catering aspect has kept Jackson extremely busy over the years and she says she has a lot on her plate on top of her workload — including helping out with her mother who has dementia.
“I will take any help I can get at this point. But, yes, this is new to me – having a gofundme,” Jackson says. “But I really do need a van for transportation and I would love it to have Melly Mel’s written all over it.”
A van will help her in her busy catering business and when she becomes one of the restaurants featured at the brand-new Madison Public Market, although she’s not quite sure when that will start. But she says that she’s really excited about it, nonetheless, especially with Melly Mel’s being on the main floor of the market.
“They are supposed to break ground in November and then we should be ready to do our build-out by this next year – 2022-2023. That is if everything goes alright with the pandemic; we should be ready to move in and get started,” Jackson says of the Madison Public Market that will be located on Madison’s east side near East Johnson and First Streets. “I am so excited because I’ve done so much prep for that. I’m really looking forward to that. That will be great.”
In the meantime, she is hoping to get a little love from the community that she has nourished with delicious food for almost two decades. The van will not only help her stay in business, she says, but it will hopefully help her grow.
“I’ve been a part of this community for many years, but to actually have a van … that would be an important step for me,” Jackson says. “It has been very exhausting to stay above water, so any help that the community would give me, I would be very grateful.
“The van would be great to help my business grow and to be able to serve more people of Madison,” she adds.