New soul food restaurant opens after stars align in Lennox – SiouxFalls.Business

April 12, 2022

A chance meeting has led to the opening of a new restaurant in Lennox.

Earlier this year, Joni Williamson had stopped at the post office on Lennox’s Main Street when she saw a sign advertising a sale at Dennis’ Deals, located inside an archery range across the street. A lifelong cook, she couldn’t resist purchasing some “really neat American cooking utensils.”

As she checked out, owner Dennis Hatle asked if she liked to cook.

“Yes,” said Williamson, who started preparing meals for her father and two younger sisters when she was 12 after her mother died.

“How about opening up a restaurant?” Hatle returned.

For 25 years, Williamson had considered the idea. She had filled out two journals with her plans. Until she returned to speak with Hatle, who in turn connected her with the building’s owners, Williamson thought her dream would go no further.

Now, she is the owner, cook and sole employee at Auntie J’s American Soul Food, which opened in March at 217 S. Main St. The restaurant is currently open from 4 to 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, offers brunch on the second Sunday of each month from 11 am to 2 pm and has a self-serve coffee bar and pastry counter from noon to 5 pm Wednesday through Saturday.

Williamson calls her food “new-style American soul food.” Her menu includes traditional items such as barbecued ribs, fried chicken, collard greens and homemade cornbread and rolls. She also offers items such as tacos.

It features “everything that’s good from the West Coast to the East Coast and from North and South,” Williamson said. Her Italian menu includes what she describes as “giant monster meatballs and alfredo with Cajun seasonings.” For St. Patrick’s Day, she offered corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes and onion gravy. For Oktoberfest, Williamson will offer German food with different spices.

Williamson likes to put her own twist on the food she prepares. She still uses the cookbook her father gave her after her mother’s death, and it is worn and tattered but still invaluable. The shortbread cookies she serves at her pastry counter come from that cookbook.

Her pastries also include cookies sprinkled with Himalayan salt and a variety of brownies, with cakes, cobblers and crisps on hand in her cooler. Once a week, she will incorporate a “tipsy” dessert, such as whiskey peach cobbler or limoncello cake.

Her first brunch service started 45 minutes later than the promised opening. As a one-person operation, she’s still learning the schedule she must keep, Williamson said. Customers responded good-naturedly and came back to sample savory items such as smothered chicken, homemade biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, and an andouille sausage egg bake. She also offers homemade pastries and a salad bar with fruit.

Auntie J’s also brought in musicians to play last weekend. In part, it was a celebration of her son Sam’s 18th birthday. Williamson and her husband, Jess, a truck driver, are also parents to two adult children. Living with them at home in addition to Sam are Abigail, 5, and Samson, 4, along with her 22-year-old nephew, Davon.

Williamson moved to Lennox in May. She has worked with food much of her adult life, as a baker for a grocery store, a deli worker and the manager of a food and nutrition program for a private school. She studied both nutrition and hospitality in college.

When she started Auntie J’s, Williamson decided not to offer what could be found elsewhere in Lennox.

“Why should I compete with a good burger place when we already have one here or some other place?” she said. “Let me do my thing and shine. My husband told me ‘cook the way you cook for us.’ ”

Auntie J’s can seat 50 diners. With its location in the Shakery Archery, where Dennis’ Deals is open from noon to 5 pm Wednesdays through Saturdays, she can expand to serve 500 people for special events.

Williamson also wants to turn Auntie J’s into a place where Lennox’s senior citizens can meet when they want to with fewer restrictions on daytime hours than a senior center might have. The building Auntie J’s occupies would have room for exercise classes and a lounge area.

Eventually, Williamson wants to expand her hours. She is hoping a sister will move to Lennox and join her in the restaurant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button