J&J Catering Service

Dawn Cauthen-Thornton | November 16th, 2017
J&J Catering Service (Photos by Jerry Barbry)

J&J Catering Service (Photos by Jerry Barbry)

It’s ironic that James and Jameria Self met surrounded by food. When James and a friend entered the restaurant where Jameria worked, he didn’t expect to meet his future wife. And she certainly wasn’t looking for love. In fact, she was an undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill, working three jobs, trying to earn extra money. Since James is such a fun-loving guy, it took him two visits to the restaurant for Jameria to take him seriously. And more than 24 years later, the two share a beautiful daughter, a catering business, and a world full of goals and dreams that they’re steadfastly working on (including an idea for a bed and breakfast that Jameria is speaking life into).

James and Jameria are both in the technical field, worlds away from the food industry. James is a computer engineer and a N.C. A&T State University graduate where he was also a student-athlete. Jameria is a technical writer and a UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State alum. Though she hails from Raeford, NC she has firmly planted roots in the triangle, the main service area of their business.

As a child, Jameria loved to cook. She watched both parents in the kitchen and absorbed as much knowledge as she could. “It was the thing that brought the family together,” she says. Her parents would charge each one of their children to bake their own cakes during Christmas. After college, she found herself cultivating her skills with homemade lasagna and other dishes. James started sharpening his cooking skills in college, completely as a means of survival. He didn’t always travel home for the holidays, so he and his buddies would each pick a dish to contribute to their potluck meal and James would call his mother for a recipe. That led to him experimenting with seasonings and how to add flavor to certain foods.

Even though they both love to cook, the two didn’t really have intentions on starting J&J Catering Services 15 years ago. For the first five years they were just the go-to couple when friends and family needed food for special occasions. They’d provide southern style favorites such as fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, greens and other staples. “One day Jameria simply asked me if I wanted to start a catering business together. And I said, ‘sure’,” James laughs. Within the last 10 years the business has been licensed as they’ve grown to service larger projects. Clients tend to be the best marketing tools and the couple is grateful that happy customers have spread the word about their food.

They don’t only cook for friends and family like they once did, now their portfolio includes churches, family reunions, graduations, Greek organizations, and corporations, including the town of Chapel Hill. “There are some who contact us and we don’t know how they found us,” says Jameria. Now with digital and social media so prevalent, there are countless ways to attract customers. Within the last few years, they’ve also built a website to showcase their dishes.

Over the years, the two find that balancing home and work life has it’s challenges, but they manage. With a 10 year old daughter, schedules can sometimes feel like a juggling act. James confesses that he works at the office at least an average of 65 hours a week as a Principle Solutions Architect with a service provider. Recently James’ coworker got wind of the family business and hired them to cater a high school graduation party. “I’d been working with this gentleman for at least 17 years and never really mentioned our business. When he found out, he was shocked,” James says. Even the coworker’s guests were surprised to hear they were both IT professionals. One friend in particular is such a fan that he persuaded them to travel almost three hours for his event in Fayetteville, NC.

Within the last year they’ve been asking themselves how can they take J&J Catering Services to the next level. Transitioning from two financially stable jobs to relying solely on one income that’s not guaranteed can be tricky. “You also have to think about hiring employees, having a brick and mortar versus a stand-alone trailer for a food truck and so many other things,” James explains. With the help of a few extra hands, James and Jameria plan to go as far as they can for as long as they can.

Who knows, maybe one day you will be able to come to them instead of them coming to you.

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