OBERLIN, OH — Since she was a kid, all Shontae Jackson wanted to do was cook.
“I really love what I do but I also love the people I serve,” Jackson said. “[I love] the freedom of it like being able to express myself through food.”
Inspired by her mother, Jackson set out to become a chef. After graduating from culinary school, the single mother of three spent years shuffling around Northeast Ohio learning from other chefs and food truck operators. In 2018, she got her own food truck and named it Steel Magnolia.
“I was always like you know I want a food truck and the food truck is going to get me to the restaurant,” Jackson explained.
Jackson says owning a restaurant has always been the goal, but owning one in her hometown of Oberlin was her childhood dream. She’s had her heart set on a spot, nestled on the corner of East College Street and South Pleasant Street, since she was 10 years old.
“Me and my children would be in the car and we would ride by and I would be like they’re just getting it ready for us,” she said. “I really knew this was going to be the place where I would be.”
Jackson has been saving as much money as possible ever since. She says this year’s food truck events, including ones like Destination Cleveland, were going to help her meet her goal.
But in March, Jackson’s savings and her dream were put on hold.
“With COVID it was just like oh what are we going to do almost like it was really difficult.”
Finally, after a few months into the pandemic, an opportunity came up. Jackson says the building owners of her dream restaurant home offered her a deal and slashed their asking price for Jackson to move in immediately.
“We came right into the door we came right into not a plate not a fork not a spoon not a chair we didn’t have to get anything,” Jackson said. “It’s amazing. It’s amazing like you know what it is to be a dreamer and a visionary but when you see God move it changes your whole insight.”
As Jackson continues setting up, she says her hometown has welcomed her with open arms.
“I live right there so I’m excited to have like a new place to try out on town,” resident Olivia Estrada said.
Jackson and the Steel Magnolia crew plan to officially open their new spot early next month, but you can still catch the food truck out and about until then.
“My children get to see a legacy being built,” Jackson said. “What’s for you is for you and I believe that.”