For many who’ve stopped to sample Montgomery Super Suppers’ distinctive and flavorful pimento cheese at the Market, Nick Jernigan’s winning smile and friendliness are the draw. Nick is a natural salesman, and people love him. But Nick is quick to correct anyone who assumes he is the chef or that their famous pimento cheese is his creation. “It’s my wife, Davena, who does it all. She’s the chef,” he says. She chimes in with a smile, “Nick is the star, but I’m the galaxy.”
Davena Jernigan was raised in Seattle, but has Alabama roots. After turning 30, she made her way down to Alabama. She and her husband purchased an existing business, Montgomery Super Suppers, started a food truck, On a Roll, and developed and began selling their pimento cheese. Davena worked on the recipe until she came up with a version that she and their customers can’t get enough of. They make their pimento cheese in small batches. “It has some unexpected ingredients – capers, Italian parsley, fresh lemon juice and roasted garlic.” She smiles, “It’s got ‘swag.’ It’s like a party on your palate.” Nick chimes in, “And don’t forget the secret ingredients – love, hugs and rainbows.”
“I grew up with brothers, so working in a male-dominated environment is second nature and actually quite comfortable to me,” Davena says. “Nick, on the other hand, loves good food, but doesn’t consider himself a cook, more of a profession taster! He grew up in a family of accomplished, professional women who worked hard all day and then came home and made incredible food for their families. So he has great taste, and he’s a great face for our business.”
“We both work multiple jobs, and honestly we never stop. But we love what we do.” Davena continues, “When I was offered the job as Executive Chef at the fine dining restaurant, Itta Bena, I knew it was an opportunity I had to explore. I wanted to pay homage to the legions of African American women who came before me, who were forced to cook for a living, for little or no pay and without any recognition. I am extremely appreciative of the creative control I have, our amazing staff and our forward thinking leadership at Itta Bena.”
A lot of the Jernigan’s catering work in Montgomery has dried up, with the dramatic drop in tourism and reduced activity around downtown. Fortunately people keep ordering casseroles from their store and they’re selling pimento cheese at farmers markets, which helps. “Long term,” Davena says, “We’d love to be known for taking our food, not ourselves, seriously and for making great pimento cheese. We’d like to get it into grocery stores everywhere.”
“In the meantime, we’re looking forward to being back at the Market this Saturday,” Nick says. “We are grateful for the steady business and name recognition that Pepper Place has provided.” Davena adds, “If you have a storefront, you have to wait for business to come to you, but at the Market, you learn to go out and get it. We work hard when we’re there. We are NOT going home with (unsold) pimento cheese!” She laughs, then says, “ I grew up in Seattle with Pike Place, one of the best markets in the country, but I love Pepper Place just as much. You guys do everything so well and make it so easy for us. We drive 2 hours to be there on a Saturday, after a long week and a long night the night before, and it’s totally worth it.”
Davena Jernigan and her husband and business partner, Nick, will be at the Market this Saturday, so look for them and make sure to take home extra pints of their famous pimento cheese. Check the market website for the weekly vendor lists to see when they’ll be back. And remember – advice from Davena and Nick – don’t be afraid of deliciousness!