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“It’s a restaurant, but it is my house.” Soul food spot House of Flavas brings home cooking to the east side

Jodie Jefferson at her Chicago-style fast food restaurant, House of Flavas, on Madison's East Side.

The drive to Chicago can be a long road for many who are looking to experience the communal warmth and flavor sensation that comes with a delicious meal from an authentic soul food restaurant. Jodie Jefferson was feeling the same way as a Chicago native who moved to Madison to be closer to family. 

“Well, I’m always driving home to get food every other weekend, why not bring the food to Madison,” Jefferson said. “And that’s what happened at House of Flavas.” 

Jefferson’s initial efforts to provide tasty soul food classics came out of her own home as people would be in and out of her driveway to get a meal. Things changed when Jefferson’s work told her that her dedication to cooking was interfering with her job. Through strong family support, Jefferson started taking the steps to opening up her own dining establishment.

 “We (had) to come up with a name. And my daughter, the youngest, said, ‘Mom, you cook in the house, and you already call it flavas, why don’t you say House of Flavas?’ And I go, ‘There it goes.’ Everybody in the room did this for hours. And she said that, and everybody was like, that’s it!”

While not the initial location, House of Flava’s space at 4905 Commercial Ave on Madison’s east side opens possibilities that Jefferson continues to explore.

“My landlord, who I love so much, he was like, ‘Well, we have another place. Look at this one, because you can’t work over here yet, so let’s take this one and see about this.’ And I got over here I was like, ‘Oh my. There’s some things I could do.’” Jefferson said. “I do get people that travel from everywhere to get the food, but I want you to be able to walk right in from your neighborhood to get my food. That’s what I’m working on.”

Jefferson strives to draw people in for the community and service she can provide in preparing an array of soul food with original house-made lemonades with custom names to go along with the custom flavors. Weekends are the most exciting time as there is always something new on special that Jefferson likes to keep as diverse as her future plans for the space. 

 “There’s so much space, so many things and talents that I have that I’m going to be bringing to the ‘House’ real soon,” she said. “Ice cream shop that’s in the making over there. It’s in the making. We do all types of things from frozen smoothies to parfaits, all types of stuff. And this is all from me cooking all this stuff for my children through their whole life.”

Jefferson works at the restaurant surrounded by family: a son who works mornings helping prepare for opening, a daughter labeled as Jefferson’s “mini-me” who helps with operations, a cousin who works the cash register and keeps the front of house in high spirits, and Jefferson’s mother who comes from Chicago to provide assistance in a multi-generational business. Jefferson’s familial inspiration stems even further as this is not the first culinary venture in her family’s history. 

“I heard that my mom’s mom had a restaurant, and in her restaurant, they peeled potatoes and cut the potatoes,” she said. “My uncle, who’s my mother’s brother, would go in every day and peel the potatoes and cut them into french fries. And that’s why we serve fresh-cut french fries. That’s something that I give my kids all the time, we don’t do bag french fries. We like them fresh.”

Out of the many skills that Jefferson possesses, from massage therapy to hair styling to event planning, her passion for food has kept people coming back and has provided her with a means to give to a community she deeply cares for. Recently, she has even explored Asian food franchise opportunities, adding another layer to her diverse skill set and commitment to service.

“I learned that the things I’ve been through, God brought me through those, so anything that’s ahead of me, he’s in front of me to bring me through them,” she said. “And that’s what made me have a positive life. It has not always been this positive, but I want to be able to spread that and right now, it’s through my food, but I have so much more to offer.”

The community in kind has responded positively to the presence of House of Flavas. For both the soul food and the soulful atmosphere, the feedback Jefferson has received shows how important her efforts have been for the community. “That’s what I keep hearing. ‘Oh, wow this feels like home.’ When you walk in here, you do feel like you’re at home, like you walked into someone’s house. That’s what House of Flavas is. It’s a restaurant, but it is my house,” she said.

Jefferson simply hopes that her story and passion will drive people to come out and be in community to build a strong connection across Madison through food. “I just want Madison to hear it and Madison to know that,” she said. “Whether it’s through food, whether it’s through community, whether it’s through fellowship, we can all bridge the gap to become one again. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about unity and fellowship.”