“That’s what we do: Food and just enjoying one another’s company,” Jahmaal says. Much of what the twin entrepreneurs do now as owners of Down South Cajjun Eats stems from those weekends in East Texas when their dad hosted trail rides and boiled crawfish. Every weekend was a party, it seemed, and they helped early on, cooking and entertaining people.
When the brothers got to Southwestern University in Georgetown, they missed the vibe of their weekends at home – and especially the crawfish. So they started doing boils, selling plates out of their home, and then doing pop-ups, brunches, Friday night fish frys out of Spinner’s Bar & Grill in North Austin.
When the pandemic hit and they found themselves at home – early on, Jahmaal, a barber, wasn’t working and Jermaine was working his IT job from home – with time to ramp up their own business. They started renting space at La Placita in Pflugerville which was at the time a mostly-ignored food truck park adjacent to a small meat and produce market.
“It started turning more into a restaurant-style operation faster than we expected, so we just kind of went with it and kept building while we went along,” Jermaine says. “We’re still building and still kind of learning what does work and doesn’t work” and tweaking and fine-tuning the model, which has morphed into one that is as much a party space as it is outdoor eating facility.
“When we opened, I feel like there was nothing for people to do – most restaurants are inside,” and the pandemic had shut down indoor dining, Jermaine says. But thanks to the outdoor nature of their space, Down South Cajjun Eats allowed an opportunity for people to gather and socialize during a time when everyone was eager to get back outside and see people – and do it safely. “We can feel safe [because] we’re not all bunched up inside of a building,” he adds.
What started as a desire to bring good food to their new home city has morphed into a sort of cultural phenomenon.
“If everyone’s being honest about it, we don’t necessarily feel as welcome as we think we should [at other venues in Austin], and even with music, when you ask, ‘can you play this song?’ [DJs will] say, ‘no, we can’t play that here,’” Jahmaal says. So as Down South Cajjun Eats continued to morph, it became really important to the twins that they were “able to create that space and make people feel comfortable and listen to the music that we wanted to listen to and eat the food we want to eat and promote other Black-owned businesses as well,” he says.
“Being able to go somewhere where you feel comfortable, you feel wanted, you feel welcome, you feel at home … where we can feel like our money is appreciated, we’re appreciated, we can have a great time without feeling disrespected,” has been everything the twins say they wanted.
That is how we were raised, on family, on love, on food.
“It means a lot, because we’re kind of giving people the same experience we had growing up – and some people never had that experience at all,” Jermaine says. “That is how we were raised, on family, on love, on food.”
Another of their primary goals is to help other aspiring Black business owners launch and grow their businesses. The twins are the first to admit that they’re not experts in the restaurant industry – “We never had any experience in restaurants, we never had any experience in bars. We only had experience in cooking, entertaining people, and throwing events,” Jahmaal says. Owning a restaurant wasn’t even their dream; it was their dad’s, and it’s something that has stuck with them from childhood.
But they do know what it’s like to build a business up from the ground and identify and fill a market void.
“With everything we went through and anything we did, we’re here to give everyone the same advice and help them in any way we can,” he adds.
Their biggest advice: Don’t overthink it.
“If you don’t reach the plan or the goal that you have set in your mind, it could be a disappointment,” says Jermaine. “Just have fun with it and just do it, and if it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen.”