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Jorieka Downey, a.k.a. Chef Jo, opened her catering business, GRITS CLT, in February of 2019.
“It took me quite a while to actually jump all the way off the porch, because I’m a single mom, so I was just scared to let go of my job,” she says.
But when the CIAA Basketball Tournament and the NBA All Star weekend came to Charlotte in the winter of 2019, Downey knew her time had arrived.
Those two events allowed Downey to make back everything she’d invested in just one month. Then she started lunch delivery for corporate clients in Uptown. “I was delivering to Bank of America, Duke Energy… It was going well; I sold out of lunches every day,” Downey recalls.
The GRITS CLT menu has a variety of cuisines — Southern, NoLa, South of the Border, International and Caribbean. Downey says her best sellers are the lemon pepper collard greens and pimento mac and cheese.
“I was raised by chefs…so I’ve always had a passion for food,” Downey says. This, plus her entrepreneurial spirit and validation from friends and family, is what got her started on the catering path.
Then came Covid-19. GRITS CLT shut down from March to July in 2020. Downey took this time to apply for grants, loans and to get her small business certified with the county. That’s when she decided to open a food truck — so if another pandemic happened, she could still have a source of income.
Her truck hit the streets in May of 2021 — smack in the midst of the Covid-related labor shortage.
“Right now, it’s my family — my son, cousins and best friends — who really help me keep this business going,” Downey says.
“My dreams are big. I would love to franchise GRITS,” says Downey, who has lived in Charlotte for 20 years but hails from Winston Salem. She wants to take GRITS to her hometown and eventually open a restaurant, bar and grill there.
As a “foodie” in Charlotte, Downey is a fan of the Queen City’s dining scene. And although she doesn’t eat out as much anymore, Optimist Hall, she says, is next on her list.