Soul in the Bank

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For the past eight years, Jean’s Soul Food has been a Wood Street fixture, especially easy to spot on Sundays as the line for brunch snaked out the door and onto the sidewalk. Hopefully the long waits for an after-church table will be a thing of the past in her new location, the former Standard Bank, 730 Penn Avenue.


Cooking has been owner Jean Gould’s life, not just her livelihood, ever since she was a girl growing up in Jacksonville, Florida. She watched her mother, also a professional cook, very closely, helping out in the kitchen and, when her mother was at work, sometimes experimenting with dishes of her own.
“Sometimes I would burn stuff up,” she says with a smile, “but I just had to keep at it until it was just right.”
She credits this early experimentation with helping to develop an almost uncanny ability to season on the fly, “a dash of this, a dash of that, I keep it all in my head.”
Upon moving here from Florida (“I hated the storms!”), Gould began cooking for her church, and positive feedback led to her selling food out of a beauty salon, and this led to a network of clients she would deliver meals to in their homes, and all of it inevitably led to the establishment of Jean’s Soul Food in 2000.
Last year, with a growing customer base and a staff of seven, she realized it was time to expand, but wanted to remain in Wilkinsburg. The Standard Bank space was a good fit, although it involved more than a year’s worth of work to transform the bank into a restaurant.
Gould is excited about the move, which gives her more space to focus on catering.
“I can do a lot more here,” she says. “I’d like to get a training program started, create a few jobs, have some people I can send out to events.”
Gould’s cooking has been featured on KDKA’s Pittsburgh 2Day and the KDKA Morning Show, but she is probably most famous around town for opening her doors on Thanksgiving Day for a free meal for whoever wants to stop by. Does she worry that people with a turkey and all the trimmings on their table at home might stop by just to get a free meal?
“I don’t know who’s hungry and who’s not,” she says. “If you do something like that, well, you’ll have to answer to God.”
Jean’s Soul Food,  730 Penn Avenue, is open every day but Monday. For information about specials, stop by, or call 412-242-4084, or log on to jeanssoulfood.com.

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