Jim and Samella’s House helps diners feel at home with a soulful touch and friendly feel at this small restaurant in Soulsville USA.
Soul food Sunday is a good place to start when it comes to Jim and Samella’s House.
The Soulsville USA restaurant feeds 100 customers on Sundays as much food as they want. But once the food is gone, it’s gone.
“When you come here we want you to feel like you’re at home,” said Talbert Fleming, who owns the restaurant with his brother, Sheldon Fleming. “The way we feed you, especially on Sundays, as long as you’re here you can eat as much as you want. With that attitude we have a lot of people come on Sundays and won’t leave. It’s like being at your grandmother’s when you pass food around.”
Jim and Samella’s House employs five who feed as many as 35 people at a time.
The restaurant started as a food truck that sat at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and Bullington Avenue. Next to the corner at 841 Bullington sat an empty house, owned by a childhood friend, Arnetta Shelton Mason.
“Here’s a house boarded up, roof caving in,” Talbert Fleming said. “I told my brother, ‘Let’s call Arnetta and see if we can buy it.’ I called her and she asked me to submit an offer. I submitted an offer and she texted me that it was too much. I submitted another offer and she came back and said it was too much. I thought, ‘OK, she must be asleep.’ I called and she said, ‘If you’ll take care of my parents’ house I’ll give it to you.’”
And a couple of weeks later the Fleming brothers had the deed. The house needed a new roof and some of the hardwood floors had to be redone.
The restaurant is named for the Flemings’ grandparents, who built a house in the neighborhood and moved there in the 1950s. Fleming said the restaurant is built on the community values they grew up with surrounded by love.
“When we had the conversation with Arnetta we talked about giving back to the community,” Fleming said. “My grandmother wouldn’t turn away anyone hungry. So when we opened if you don’t have money to eat you’re more than welcome to come and eat. We have that type of atmosphere of, ‘Put my bill on the books’ if you get paid at the beginning of the month. So we’ll provide the meal. It stems from the passion we have for the community.”
The food has a soul food focus, but it changes pretty regularly. In fact, there are no menus. The food available that day is listed on a chalk board inside the restaurant’s front room.
Coming from the food truck, Sheldon Fleming was known for his burgers. When Jim and Samella’s House opened in July 2013, the burgers and hot dogs made their way to the menu. And so did chicken and waffles and pork chop and waffles.
The waffles are made with a gluten-free flour that comes from a multigrain wholesaler in Arkansas.
Other specialties include a collared green casserole and a neck bone dressing made by the Flemings’ mother.
The Flemings believe in the neighborhood; in fact, they have a garden just west of the restaurant where vegetables soon will be planted and available for the community to pick, free of charge.
Thanks in part to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, much of the restaurant’s customers are visitors to the city. The restaurant has quickly built a strong reputation that has led to an increase in catering business. And it’s not just events in Memphis.
The Flemings’ were asked to cater singer Roberta Flack’s 50th anniversary in the music industry party. One of Flack’s managers was in Memphis for an awards ceremony and the group stopped in at Jim and Samella’s to eat chicken and waffles.
The call to fly to Washington to cater the event came a month later.
Fleming is hopeful more people in the community will stop in and enjoy their food.
“A lot of people don’t know it’s a restaurant,” he said. “We don’t advertise. We wanted to keep it like a home.”
Hear more from Talbert Fleming about the future of Soulsville at High Ground News' What Smart Neighborhoods Can Learn From Soulsville USA free speaker event on March 14. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.