Backstory: Filling souls with breakfast, lunch and a side of prayer

vbridges@newsobserver.comFebruary 10, 2014 

  • Advice from Phyllis Terry

    • Don’t give up on your business, especially if you have a passion for it.

    • Keep a good attitude and give back to the community.

— There’s a Bible next to the cash register and daily devotionals on each table.

Gospel music blares in the background, as Phyllis Terry greets customers while working the griddle, dressing plates and washing dishes in the back room.

“I do it all,” said Terry, who along with her husband, Thomas, own JC’s Kitchen on Main Street in Durham. “Whatever needs to be done.”

Mornings are usually the busiest at the breakfast and lunch spot, but the soul food eatery is known for its oxtails, turkey wings and old-school staples such as liver pudding, fried bologna and fat back.

JC stands for Jesus Christ. And just as the name implies, the restaurant’s mission isn’t just to fill local bellies with reasonably priced food, but to touch lost and sad souls.

“If I can bring change to an individual’s mind, then God will give me change,” as in money, she said.

The story behind the restaurant traces back to Terry and her eight siblings being raised by a mother known across Durham for her cooking, Terry said.

“We all grew up in church,” Terry said. “That was a foundation for us.”

In the 1990s, Terry’s brother Charles Lee opened Lee’s Kitchen in the space. Her sister Sheilah Lee eventually took over and rebranded it with the current name and the slogan “Where the food is anointed and you won’t be disappointed,” which is displayed in a mural on the side of the restaurant.

For 18 years, Terry and her husband lived in Japan, ministered to their homegrown church there, and traveled with a mission organization that provided medical, dental and spiritual needs to the poor in Asia.

About six years ago, Terry returned to Durham after receiving a call from Lee, who had been diagnosed with cancer.

They were inseparable growing up. They talked 10 times a day while Terry was in Japan, Terry said, and she wanted to be by her sister’s side.

Lee died in July 2008 and was buried after a crowded service.

“We brought her back to the restaurant in the horse and chariot and did our last salute,” Terry said. “People came out of the buildings, barbershops, and stores, and just saluted her because she was known for helping the community.”

Lee’s siblings ran the business until Terry moved back to Durham and officially took over in 2011. She closed the business for three months for a major remodeling.

For Terry, JC’s is a “place of refuge” and a resource center, where people can look for inspiration, a helping hand or a second chance.

People come to eat, Terry said, but they also come for the weekly Scripture, the daily devotional or a prayer.

In November, she put up a new sign and is finalizing a mural of her sister, which will be painted on the blank side of the building.

While the business has always offered catering, Terry started hosting events at the space and opening the restaurant doors at noon on Sundays this past April, hoping to bring in local congregations to eat and spend time together.

“Turn the karaoke on and have fun,” Terry said. “Instead of saying you have to go to a club or somewhere else to do that, you can still come to a peaceful, restaurant atmosphere.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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