By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
When the hectic nature of the holidays proves stressful, one local chef is determined to ease worry and remind families of the true meaning of the season.
Local Joe’s Chef Josh (JP) Pendergrass shares how catering can transform events and serve customers, alleviating any anxiety that might accompany mealtime.
Born and raised in Louisiana, just 30 miles southwest of New Orleans, Pendergrass traveled following high school, hopping from The Big Easy to the San Francisco Bay area. When his sister moved to Alabama, he decided to follow suit and sprouted a new chapter in his culinary career.
Pendergrass (pictured above) began in the restaurant business at 16, growing up creating mock menus and testing his talents on his family, for whom he often cooked meals on the weekends. From working in the back dish area of restaurants to front serving to management, Pendergrass understands the intricacies and innerworkings of the restaurant business and the many hands required to ensure eateries remain afloat.
“I grew up with uncles who were farmers,” said Pendergrass. “We had a family farm in Mississippi where my grandparents lived. Growing up, visiting them on the weekends consisted of shucking corn, hulling peas, picking and cracking pecans and snapping beans. I even remember having to wake up early to go get blueberries off the bushes before the birds got ‘em – we would get buckets full. That was the joy I got about food that made me love it, to be able to see it from seed to harvest.”
When Pendergrass moved to Rainbow City in 2012, he became essential to Local Joe’s catering business straightaway. Local Joe’s owner Jodie Stanfield is the brother of Pendergrass’ brother-in-law and the family connection inspired Stanfield to partner with the seasoned chef. From its inception, Pendergrass assisted with vital aspects of the restaurant’s expansion, including the remodeling of the original store to the addition of a bakery. The restaurant now houses a consultation and tasting room, where Pendergrass meets with clients to discuss catering and the Southside location provides corporate office space to sketch blueprints for events.
Local Joe’s offers more than just barbeque. With Pendergrass’ culinary experience, having traveled to areas like Japan, Thailand, Belize, Mexico and Canada, his constant craving for the latest fresh and delicious foods feeds an endless world of possibility. While the catering menu began with basic and simple Southern dishes, Pendergrass admits that the current catering menu is too long to list, proving ample options for all palettes and preferences.
“I tell people that the sky is the limit,” said Pendergrass. “I can make just about anything. I recently quoted a bride on smoking a whole goat. She is of Bangladeshi decent and the groom is Mexican. That’s an infusion that I am excited to make a menu for.”
Pendergrass commended his incredible team of catering staff members that consistently go above and beyond to produce quality meals and experiences for their clients. Rather than simply provide food for various occasions, Pendergrass ensures that the décor, ambiance and theme all coincide seamlessly to create more than a meal, but a memory that clients will recall forever.
“My position can be hard,” said Pendergrass. “I am in over four different locations, taking calls for pickups, doing deliveries, weddings, tastings and quotes, along with working in the kitchen as needed. But I wouldn’t ask for it differently. I love that I can speak one-on-one with people abd really get to know them on a personal level. Sometimes, it’s a wedding or a graduation and I get to celebrate that moment with them. Even though I might talk with 50 plus people in one week, I can tell you about them. It is definitely a gift, but I know God put me right here for a reason. I am so excited to be a servant to Him with my responsibilities.”
Pendergrass shared a key lesson he learned throughout his time in the restaurant business.
“I’ve learned to humble yourself and listen to your employees,” said Pendergrass. “As stressful as this business can be, you need to take a step back and think about them. We have a motto, ‘we are in the people business and food is what we do.’ I love that, because it’s so true. We take pride in what we do, and we love the community and people in it.”
Pendergrass noted that the pandemic altered the catering business, and the contrast between the past and present is staggering. Local Joe’s catered over 100 weddings last year, but now people are hesitant to reach out. Pendergrass reassured interested clients that Local Joes will accommodate all events with safety and responsibility, noting that he catered recent weddings with boxed meals for each guest, packaged with flowers and bows.
“The holiday seasons are always very different and hectic,” said Pendergrass. “Especially [now] due to the fact of COVID. We have had to reschedule, cancel and rethink the whole process of our catering. It is still something I thrive on to be inventive and accommodating. Knowing that we could be a part of someone’s special day or special gathering for the holidays means so much to me.”
Regardless of the circumstances affecting the outside world, the men and women who strive to serve others will always emerge as beacons of aid. Pendergrass and his catering team serve others diligently, reiterating Local Joe’s mission of influencing its employees and customers with positivity and commitment. Pendergrass thanked the community for its continual support, highlighting the love and devotion he and his employees garner for their home.
“The best part about Local Joe’s is that we are a family,” said Pendergrass. “From the employees to management, we are always there for each other and will do anything for each other. It’s more than just a job; it’s a living. If you don’t love what you do, you are in the wrong business.”
He noted his hope for those who partner with Local Joe’s for future catering endeavors, and his wish for all who experienced the service in the past.
“I would hope that families see how much we care about their experience,” said Pendergrass. “We want the food on their table to be just as perfect and good as if it was on our own.”