To say that Ellen Jones puts her heart and soul into Ellie Mae’s Cafe food truck is an understatement. You can almost taste the love.
On the menu, you’ll find farm-fresh Southern-style hand-breaded catfish, shrimp and chicken fillets, as well as homemade hushpuppies. Also expect homemade sauces thanks to the tangy cocktail and savory tartar sauce.
And there’s nostalgia in every bite. Those who were in Murfreesboro in the early 2000s might remember why.
“We started in the catfish business when my husband helped develop and launch Uncle Bud’s Catfish in 1998,” Jones recalls.
Uncle Bud’s was located in what is now Yoki Buffet on Northeast Broad Street.
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Mike’s Catfish Opens
After Mike Jones left Uncle Bud’s, the couple opened Mike’s Catfish 20 years ago in a renovated Pizza Hut building on Northeast Broad.
“We don’t use the exact same recipe as Uncle Bud’s. We use our own recipe,” Jones said. “Everyone asks me for my special recipe for my breadcrumbs. But I can’t give it to them. It’s my husband and I’s recipe and I wrote it down in the safe,” Jones added with a laugh. .
Don’t expect it to be spicy either.
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“A lot of people want Cajun, but I serve my recipe. … It’s not as spicy, but it’s not bland. To me, it’s flavorful and brings out the taste of the fish,” Jones said. .
Mike’s Catfish had a good following, but the economy collapsed in 2008 and the Joneses were forced to close after three years there.
“A lot of people closed (during this time). The overhead of a physical restaurant is tough. You have the same rent and the same utilities,” Jones said, almost in tears.
Mike and Ellen Jones found work elsewhere. But it was not the same.
“It was very hard on my husband. We put our blood, our souls and our tears into it,” Jones said.
Following the death of her husband two years ago, Jones held various jobs, including as a private chef in Louisiana for a short time. She didn’t have a fulfilling career at heart and was adamant, even in the midst of a pandemic, that something had to change.
“I decided to buy a food truck. I found this little trailer and I thought, ‘This is perfect for me.’ So I bought it without seeing it. I didn’t even have a truck to pull it. So I bought a truck,” Jones joked.
Her children – Matt, Michael and Sarah – didn’t want her to go all the way, telling her it would be too hard.
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Catfish is ‘all I know’
“But I told them that’s all I know,” Jones said. “And that makes me happy.”
The food truck was not easy, but much easier than a restaurant was.
“You have to do a lot of planning and be organized. Every inch of space has to be used. But once you’ve cleaned it up and parked it, you’re done for the day. A restaurant is definitely harder,” he said. she declared.
His children also came on board to help as much as possible. But it’s Mike’s memory that keeps her going.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him. But I feel like he’s working right next to me. I’m looking over there,” Jones said, pointing to a framed print of a newspaper article about Mike’s Catfish, “and it’s like he’s been here with me the whole time.”
More than memory, Jones said Ellie Mae’s Cafe continues her legacy.
“I needed something to do to maintain our legacy,” Jones said.
Mike’s Catfish fans found Ellie Mae’s Cafe on Facebook and are coming out in droves. Business is booming as more people discover his hand-breaded catfish and fixins.
Follow Ellie Mae’s Cafe on Facebook and find out where she will be at streetfoodfinder.com/EllieMaesCafe.