Best Of 2019

Best Display of Resilience (And Great Cooking): Just Cookin’

Monica Williams spent the last six years cooking soul food at her popular West End take-out spot Just Cookin’, often drawing lines of customers eager for her meatloaf, cornbread, ribs, greens, grilled salmon and other home-cooked favorites. Just one problem: Williams’ spot was in the historic State Theater on Central Avenue, which had to come down to make way for FC Cincinnati’s new MLS soccer stadium. The $250 million facility, helped along by $34 million in infrastructure spending from the City of Cincinnati and another $15-$22 million from Hamilton County for a parking garage, signals big changes likely for the historically predominantly black neighborhood with a median household income of just $15,000 a year. FCC and city officials have promised those changes will bring more investment, more jobs and more opportunity, but they also mean a big transition for the businesses that were once in the stadium’s footprint. Williams’ restaurant held its last day on a Friday in November 2018. The atmosphere was festive, but sad, too — the end of an era for the restaurant’s customers and for Williams, as well as for her mother, father, grandmother, nephew and niece, all of whom worked at Just Cookin’. That correlation between food, culture and family is one Williams subscribes to whole-heartedly. “Authentic soul food started in our grandparents’ homes,” she says. “It was the staple that held the family together. The glue. And we’re losing that. We’re losing our way of cooking in our community.” The move left Williams doggedly lobbying City Hall for help and hustling to find ways to keep her business afloat by catering events and cooking from pop-up locations. FC Cincinnati has pledged to continue working with her to get Just Cookin’ back up and running. What is next for Williams is still unclear, but if her grit and tenacity are any indication, you can bet she’ll still be cooking.