Ms. Jean is a legend in Wilkinsburg. Her southern-cooking and anything-goes personality ensure a brisk business, especially during her epic brunches. You can get southern cuisine at other places, sure, but you can only get Ms. Jean at Ms. Jean’s.
Ms. Jean, how did you get here?
I’ve lived in Wilkinsburg since 1968. I did a lot of other things before I decided to open a restaurant. I worked with handicapped residents for about 26 years. I started just cooking for my church, then going to churches and cooking for their events. Then I started cooking from my home and taking food out to beauty shops. They encouraged me to open up a restaurant, because they enjoyed all the food I made for them.
I come from a cooking family. All the people in my family cook, the men, the women, we all cook. My mom cooked until she was 83. I am originally from the South, from Jacksonville, FL, so that’s where I learned to cook, from home.
What are your best sellers?
Macaroni and cheese and I have a fried cabbage that people love, that I’m out of today, because that’s how much they love it. My own favorite is my macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and my chicken. My seasoning for my chicken is a recipe that I brought with me from Florida.
What are the best times to visit Ms. Jean’s?
All you can eat buffet on Sunday, and it starts at 1:30. Every third Sunday we have a wall-to-wall buffet with live gospel entertainment, and for that I do suggest calling for a reservation. We get people coming in right from church, and it gets crowded.
You’re in a very interesting location here, tucked inside Hosanna House. How did you land here?
I moved into this location in 2012, after the airing of my episode of the Gordon Ramsay show (Kitchen Nightmares). A friend of mine wrote in, I used to watch it all the time, and he used to hear me say ‘Oh, I wish I could be on that show!’ I didn’t know he wrote in, until they called that they were coming out to interview me. Gordon Ramsay is a nice person, really. It’s a show, so…in real life, he’s a pretty nice person. He helps you. You may think all the criticism you get is hard, but if you’re a person with a passion for cooking, you’re going to learn something from him.
Were you sort of famous?
We did get a lot more people coming in, a lot of people calling. Still, even now. I’ve had a person come in from Hawaii and say hello because they loved the show. I have people from Alaska that call me. And the show came out in 2012! They still show it a lot though. You haven’t seen it, so I’m not going to tell you about, you gotta go watch it (Ed: seriously, go watch it).
What do you like to eat when you go out?
I can tell you I don’t go out and eat chicken. I love to eat all of the foods I don’t make. I love Olive Garden, and I love Texas Roadhouse. They give you a lot of feed! I like a large portion of food.
How do you give back to the community?
Every year since I’ve been open for business, we do Thanksgiving Dinner, and everything is free. We have a full-course meal for everyone. We don’t turn anyone down. We get over 125 folks in for that. For the last three years, we’ve been giving free toys away and give the kids a free holiday brunch. The kids love it, and I do, too!