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America's Next Great Restaurant Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is a transcript of an interview with Jamawn Woods and Lorena Garcia on May 2, 2011 about the show America's Next Great Restaurant.

Jamawn Woods

Question:
Jamawn, at what point did you think you might be able to win it? And Lorena, at what point did you think that he might be the one that you would end up choosing?

Lorena Garcia:
I had a feeling since actually the second week, the third week of the show when I saw Jamawn's tremendous growth. He was able to grab our advice, being able to apply it to his concept. And he's a team player. He was able to really help his people and working as a team. He showed tremendous signs of leadership. So to me it was a no-brainer.

Jamawn Woods:
For me I would have to say it was the episode when I made the gumbo. You know, I started off with the wings and waffles. But once I saw all the people in Universal CityWalk liked the food and also the investors liked it. That really gave me the heads up, okay, like I really might have a chance to win this thing.

Question:
How involved were you with the final design of the restaurant and with the menu?

Jamawn Woods:
I was very involved. That's one thing I do love and respect about the investors. They did let me do my thing. They had already stressed to me that the restaurant has to be me. You have to see and believe in me when you walk inside my restaurant. When you walk into Soul Daddy you will definitely feel comfortable. You will definitely enjoy the food. It's new home cooking and it's a healthy version of soul food.

Question:
When did you find out you were the winner and are you moving to one of the cities to work with the restaurants?

Jamawn Woods:
I found out I was the winner two weeks ago actually. I already knew that I had made it to the finals ten months ago. But I never knew that I had actually won the restaurants until about two weeks ago actually.

As far as the moving, it's up in the air right now. I'm still doing a lot of talk with my fiance to decide where we want to relocate to. So it'll definitely be between the three: New York, Minnesota and LA for sure.

Question:
I know the three restaurants are opening in New York, Hollywood and Minneapolis, but do you think eventually you will have one open in Detroit?

Jamawn Woods:
That's definitely important to me. But right now I'm so excited about just having three restaurants alone. It's exciting when you have one. But here I am with three restaurants. So right now I'm just focused on making sure these three are running well and making sure that all the Soul Daddy fans and customers are satisfied and happy with the food first.

Question:
Jamawn, can you talk about the evolution of your thinking throughout the process and when you noticed a change within yourself?

Jamawn Woods:
I would have to go back to the gumbo. I started off doing the wings and waffles, but how long can I continue to make wings and waffles before these investors kick me off the show? So that's when my change came about. And then one episode I had a talk with Lorena and she stressed out just about just trying to pay attention to details and make sure my food was balanced on healthier. So once I took her advice and changed my concept a little bit I felt good about it.

Question:
I want to understand the timeline. Sometimes they'd describe you as also working as a forklift operator at Chrysler. So while you were waiting for those ten months, were you still working at Chrysler? Or what were you doing at that point?

Jamawn Woods:
Exactly we taped the show; went back home about ten months waiting on the results. But at that time I was working for Chrysler out in Sterling Heights, Michigan. I went on leave April 18th or something like that. I can't remember the exact date.

Question:
And then if there was only two weeks since they said that you won, I noticed that the concept is they showed a little glimpse of it as it opened. It seemed to have changed quite a bit from your concept, because you had purple and pictures of Motown performers and stuff like that. And it looked a lot more brick and wood in the final version. So were they working on that secretly and not telling you had won or how did that happen so quickly?

Jamawn Woods:
Actually they kept a lot of my ideas. Once you step into the restaurant then you'll see that it has a lot of wood in there. It has some pictures in there. It has a mural of me, actually, each restaurant and a couple jazz stars, things like that inside. So they kind of stuck stayed to my guns, but they put their little twist on it.

Question:
How does it feel to feed so many families with your new restaurant?

Jamawn Woods:
It feels good. It feels good to feed a lot of families. I'm excited about just showing America and a lot of families that you can eat soul food every day by us putting a little healthy twist to it. That's the ultimate goal for people to come out and say "I want some Soul Daddy for lunch. Hey I'm going back for some dinner and know that it won't feel like hey I done picked up all these calories or I ate something so unhealthy."

Question:
What did you learn about yourself through this whole process that you hadn't realized before?

Jamawn Woods:
It would probably have to be that I stayed true to myself. I always try to be the same person and stay true to my guns. But as I was on the show and I just saw the investors and other people just fall in love with me for being me, that's what really it stood out to me just being staying to myself and just being me.

Question:
Lorena, what advice would you give to parents with children that tend to be overweight?

Lorena Garcia:
One of the things that I love about Soul Daddy and for Jamawn is that we have the choice now to be able to go to the restaurant, have soul food that is healthy. We have the perception that soul food is fried food and chicken and heavy sauces. And now we're able to have this wonderful food in a healthy way that we can have different times a week. And I mean what a better way to enjoy youth America's Next Great Restaurant with the food that is made to move America and it's presented in a healthy way. I think that's a winner.

Jamawn Woods:
Thank you so much.

Question:
Because of the open in three major cities and locations, will there be any variations in the menu to reflect the people eating there in the different cities?

Jamawn Woods:
Right now we're just going to try off the healthier version of soul food. But who knows? It might be a month or two down the road where we have a city that's demanding for some fried chicken. o we're open and willing to change it up a little bit if we have to.

Question:
What was the main challenge in making the soul food healthier?

Jamawn Woods:
The main challenges in making the soul food healthier were just doing my research and trying to show the judges that my idea and my concept could work by making soul food healthier. So that was pretty tough. And that was the hardest challenge for me.

Question:
Lorena, what was the deciding factor in choosing the winner?

Lorena Garcia:
I was looking for the passion and the commitment of the contestant. And Jamawn showed that throughout the competition. And that's something that won me over. I believe that you need to be committed. You have to be passionate about your idea and knowing that no matter what, if I felt that Jamawn was going to be in this restaurant, really making it happen. And that was something that it was extremely important for me. And then when he was able to take his menu and present it in a healthier way and in a way that anybody can eat different times a day, different times a week, it was, for me, a winning formula. So he pretty much captured what I was looking for in the winner.

Question:
What are you most looking forward to with the start of the restaurant and is there is anything that you're worried about?

Jamawn Woods:
What I'm looking forward to is just the feedback from the customers. I want to make sure they come in and they're enjoying the food. It's good. They still get the same flavors that they would get from your regular soul food restaurants. And the one thing I am worried about just bad business. With any restaurateur that's one of the main concerns about not having customers in your restaurant or just bad business. So those are my concerns right there.

Question:
You had a catering business and you handled finances and the entrepreneurial headaches. You're an entrepreneur now but on a much bigger scale. How will you be handling the business decisions and how is this different?

Jamawn Woods:
It's a big difference. Back in Detroit, in my home selling wings and waffles, running my own catering service. So just by the money aspect that's making money just say about $1000 something like that. But now I have three restaurants. We talking about a lot of bucks. But one thing that I am happy about is that I have a great support team behind me. So any decision that I do have to make I have Lorena's phone number. I have Bobby, Curtis, Steve. I can call them whenever I want to and get great advice from them.

Question:
Could you give me one example of something that you learned in this capacity that you never had to worry about with your smaller catering business at home?

Jamawn Woods:
One thing that I took for granted when I was doing my business at home is detail. And that's something I got from Lorena. You know, just one mistake or you not paying attention to one thing can just blow a customer experience in your restaurant or whatever it is you're serving. So I learned that from Lorena to pay attention to detail, make sure everything is good and perfect.

Question:
How are you going to market to someone who would never even consider soul food as a healthy choice or as something as a pick on a list?

Jamawn Woods:
They're my focal point. I want to get at them. I want to let them know that soul food can be healthier. Hopefully by you watching the show it got them interested and the first step would be by getting them to one of the Soul Daddy restaurants and have them taste the food. And I think once we get out inside one of the restaurants they will love it. They will love the menu. They'll love how light some of the soul food is. And just the spirit of being in Soul Daddy, I hope I can win their hearts over.

Question:
What's an example of a light soul food dish?

Jamawn Woods:
You collard greens. A lot of people use ham hocks bacon fat and stuff like that. Try smoked turkey, try healthier things. It keeps the flavor but it's still good. And then you have things like fried chicken. We've replaced that with baked chicken. I believe if your chicken is flavorful and with the skin on the baked chicken if it's baked nice and crisp, you will not miss that fried chicken.

What we did we went for like mostly vegetarian sides. So that's something healthy. You come in there you have your coleslaw. We have a black-eyed pea salad, sweet potato salad. We have a lot of things, a lot of things.

Question:
What was it like for your father to see so much passion and determination from a son?

Jamawn Woods:
It felt good just to see my dad just be happy for me, because starting off my dad didn't know a lot about the show. I kept everything basically to myself. So once he found out he was coming out here to see me and to see what I was doing it just felt good to see my dad love his son. And I think any dad would have felt good by seeing their child on a TV show and succeeding at it.

Question:
How were the initial three cities chosen?

Lorena Garcia:
We wanted to have a representation of the East Coast, the West Coast and someplace around the middle so we can have a reach for everyone. And definitely New York and LA seem to be natural just because of the amount of people and the eclectic group of people that we can get there. And Mall of the America, the biggest in the United States, definitely made sense. So that way for at least our three first locations it makes sense for us to have them there. And so we have a great location in which not only the locals but tourists can come over and have a taste of what Soul Daddy is all about.

Question:
Lorena, do you think any of the other restaurant concepts have a chance of making it even though you and your co-investors didn't choose to invest in them?

Lorena Garcia:
They're great concepts. Definitely the ideas have to be a little more polished. And again, it's about making the right decision. It's about how you act under pressure and how you react under pressure. So I wish them the best of luck. But I definitely stick to my winner.

Question:
Did you develop the entire menu before the close of the program? Or were things adjusted before you knew that you were going to be the winner?

Jamawn Woods:
I would say probably like 70% of the menu was made on the show. But a lot of the sides they were adjusted. And I'm glad that the investors and my team came in and added their little points into healthier sides. And that's something I needed help with.

Question:Jamawn Woods:
We're still working out. I'm so excited just to win three restaurants. But I'm sure once I sit down with my team and we start going over the numbers thing like that I can get back with you and let you know.

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