Food For Every Mood: Johnathan’s Sandwich House
“With COVID and the fires. We’re blessed that we’re still standing. We’re doing everything in our power to tighten our belts and grow our margins. The community has really responded.”
Johnathan’s Sandwich Shop is a premier and authentic Cajun style sandwich shop that has been proudly serving the San Francisco area and beyond since 1971. Based in Alameda, CA, Jonathan’s is also currently the only Black-owned business on the island of 78,000.
While the sandwich shop has been in business for decades, it was purchased in 2019 by Brenda Campbell and her husband in 2019. Brenda works as a finance director at One Toyota of Oakland, and has experience in catering. They immediately hatched plans to expand the business and improve the menu. Her son, Devenaire, is the head chef – a graduate of Le Cardon Blue of San Francisco who’s worked for top organizations such as the Starwood Group, owner of the hotel chains The Westin, Sheraton Hotels, Four Points, St. Regis, and W Hotels. “We’re a Black-owned Business, and a family business,” said Brenda. “I’m a wife, a mother of eight kids, a business owner. This business is a family, and we’re just trying to bring quality food to Alameda and the surrounding community.”
Since the acquisition, Brenda and her husband have added on food delivery services such as Uber Eats Doordash, Grubhub and Postmates. She also brought a network of Toyota dealerships that come to her for catered lunches for their meetings. These additional streams of revenue have helped Brenda expand the business while also maintaining Jonathan’s decades of established clientele. Brenda maintains a working relationship with the previous owner of Jonathan’s Sandwich House, Kerry Tsai, who owned and operated the shop for the previous 12 years.
We met Brenda shortly after she bought the business, when they needed a small business loan to help with their kitchen renovation. They’re also striving to be a good jobs employer. At the moment most of their team are part-time, but Brenda and her family have a dedication to making sure that everyone who works at Jonathan’s Sandwich House knows their schedule weeks in advance, gets to have a voice in the business, and can make a good wage.
Brenda and her family wanted to expand their offerings by opening a Krispy Krunchy Chicken franchise within their shop. In a rough twist of fate, they finished their renovations and opened their fried chicken business a week before the COVID pandemic hit. “Money after money,” Brenda said. “We’re all ready to launch the Krispy Krunchy Chicken business and the pandemic hit. I told my husband, ‘Let’s just do it. We spent all of this money, we’re just going to do it.’ The community was really looking forward to it.”
“The last few months have been rough,” Brenda said. “With COVID and the fires. We’re blessed that we’re still standing. To have so many restaurants closing around you, across the street, down the street, it’s hard. We’re doing everything in our power to tighten our belts and grow our margins. The community has really responded, and I have a lot of people I can call for advice.”
Since the pandemic started, Johnathan’s growth has changed, to say the least. They’ve gotten by without needing to apply for a PPP loan or other relief, but they do have far fewer people coming in the door. Brenda’s husband expanded their presence on GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and other delivery platforms. They started doing curbside pickup. They also expanded their catering business, delivering lunches to frontline workers and other businesses where people still need to work in person. “We’re not making what we were doing in January and February,” Brenda says, “but it’s working and we’re staying afloat.” It isn’t easy, but they’re working hard and there’s a rhythm. On hot days, sandwiches go. On cooler days the chicken goes. “People don’t want to leave home, or they can’t.” Brenda says. “We still have doors open, and our workers keep six feet apart and wear masks, we’re sanitizing everything. Like everyone, we had to make the changes and things slowed down, but customers have always been able to order however they need to.”
And while Brenda and her team were dealt a hard hand due to the pandemic, they’re not back on their heels. They’re trying to keep growing their company with all of these changes, while also helping the Bay Area community. Johnathan’s Cares is a community service program serving the city of Alameda and surrounding areas. Their mission is to help feed the homeless, the hungry, and families. “Johnathan’s Cares comes from us having big hearts,” Brenda says. “Everyone has been so supportive as a city, City Hall, the police station down the street, Kaiser Alameda. They order from us all the time, and we wanted to give back.” Brenda and her family put in their personal money, not money from the business. “It felt so good to bring free lunches out to homeless communities. We planned to do it every so often, but realized if we got donations we could do even more. The donations come in small amounts ($2, $5) but it adds up, and then we can do 50 lunches.” At the moment they’re able to deliver free Johnathan’s Cares lunches once a month.
Place your order here! (and you know you have to get more than one honey butter biscuit. Who are you kidding?)