By Connie Bye
Jacob Angel loves food and wants you to do the same. Find him at Jake’s Pickup, his take-out/restaurant combo unpredictably housed in a gas station convenience store on High School Road. His first job, at age 15, was in a Memphis barbecue joint. Angel was influenced by his Southern origins, but his mom, Barbara, is also an inspiration. Just ask about their 16-year contest to create the ultimate chocolate chip cookie (she was winning the day we sat down to talk). You’ll often find him behind the counter with his wife, Kristi, as well as his mother and two sisters. “I like to surround myself with people I love,” he said.
Do you go by Jake or Jacob?
If you’d called me Jake before Jake’s Pickup, I’d have just walked the other way. We had a different name [for the restaurant], trademark, copyright; it was all done. Then at the last minute my sister said, “I think you’re making a tremendous mistake not naming the restaurant after yourself.” I said, “You know, it’s a pickup joint so how about Jake’s Pickup?” My sister said, “That’s brilliant.” Now if you call me Jacob, I don’t recognize it. Only my mom calls me that!
How long have you been involved with cooking?
Forty years. In my family, when you are old enough to sit up, my mom puts a cloth down in the kitchen and gives you bowls of sugar, flour and water and lets you play.
How did Memphis influence you?
Am I proud of everything that comes out of the South? No. But I am proud I made it out of the South a Jewish kid, a minority—and I made it out with good recipes. The one thing about the South that is awesome is the cooking. Who else can cook the crap out of a vegetable and make it taste so good?
How are your other interests—art and writing—referenced in your work?
Chopped salad: That’s my Picasso in a bowl. Vibrant colors, textures, it’s gonna pop, it’s gonna crunch. Salads, soups. Making it look pretty but making it taste even better.
What’s your favorite menu item?
I’m proudest of the bread. When we were getting ready to open Jake’s, my mother asked if I had my barbecue buns figured out. She had a really good recipe for button rolls from a café in Memphis, but they were crumbly. I spent a year changing a little something: the humidity or temperature in the proofer, the amount of eggs, flour, sugar, salt, whatever. Now people say, “That’s the best egg sandwich I’ve ever had,” or “That’s the best barbecue I’ve ever had.” But it’s the bread.
What do you do for fun?
I love being with my son, Jaydin. And I like old cars, new cars. I like hanging out with guys who like cars. Every Thursday morning from 8 to 9:30 we host Cars and Coffee, a group of car dudes. They line the parking lot: Ferrari, Porsche, old pickup truck, Corvette, BMW.
Will we someday see Jake’s at gas stations across the country?
I’ve got big things in the works. I’m about to up the game on grab-and-go but Jake’s Pickup on Bainbridge will always be the root of Jake’s everywhere.