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Journey of Miss Jay’s gets a boost from recent first-place win

The journey of Miss Jay’s Cafeteria, a client of the Illinois Small Business Development Center for the Metro East at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, began with a first-place win in the East St. Louis Cafe of Champions Challenge held in June 2021.

Owner Jere Richardson and her team’s winnings included a $2,000 cash prize and a one-year rent- and utility-free commercial kitchen/café space on SIUE’s East St. Louis Higher Education Campus. Richardson’s winning plate included Miss Jay’s Homemade Salisbury Steak with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy and a dinner roll, accompanied by a garden-fresh salad, an all-natural fruit bowl, a delicious slice of moist caramel cake, and a glass of homemade lemonade. The taste test judging was intense, but Miss Jay’s Cafeteria claimed victory over the remaining competitors.

Richardson continued to work with the SBDC and Director Jo Ann Di Maggio May after the competition to solidify her business practices. She has received marketing and human resources support as well as restaurant industry-specific guidance.

“Richardson is dedicated to making her business a success and is working hard to learn all the essentials to make that happen,” said Di Maggio May. “I am proud to be part of her growth, and look forward to assisting Miss Jay’s along the way.”

“Illinois SBDC helped me more than I could have imagined as a business owner,” Richardson shared. “After losing my job in 2019, I knew that I wanted to be my own boss, but I did not know how. Jo Ann and the entire SBDC assisted me with shaping up my paperwork, credit counseling, insurance necessities, financial projections, and so much more.”

Miss Jay’s Cafeteria serves as “an inspiration to individuals from East St. Louis that you can do anything you put your mind to, despite obstacles,” she added.

Richardson shared with the SBDC her struggle with receiving funding for the business venture. However, the SBDC partnered with the National Development Council (NDC) to secure additional financing for the business through NDC’s Grow East St. Louis Fund, which provides flexible financing for small businesses in East St. Louis.

With its establishment in East St. Louis, Miss Jay’s Cafeteria–a non-traditional restaurant business–has expanded to three forms of operation. This includes the school cafeteria on East St. Louis Higher Education Center Campus, at 601 James R. Thompson Blvd. Building B, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In addition, Miss Jay’s Cafeteria is seen hitting the Metro East St. Louis streets via a mobile school bus converted to a food truck. Plus, the business offers catering for parties and special events. Their most famous option on the menu is the Smoked Turkey Leg with a delectable house sauce over a bed of dirty rice.

Richardson and the entire Miss Jay’s Cafeteria staff are working hard to build a well-known establishment where everyone can enjoy a hot, homemade meal at a reasonable price. She has high hopes for the fruits of her labor, and is determined to increase her brand recognition and eventually expand her business into a small chain of restaurants.

“The Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE congratulates Miss Jay’s Cafeteria on its success with the East St. Louis Café of Champions Challenge and their grand opening as of August 20, 2021,” Di Maggio May concluded. “We look forward to supporting them as they continue their growth in the Metro East.”

Visit @Miss Jay’s Cafeteria on Facebook to view their Cafeteria location, receive food truck updates, and request catering assistance. You may also contact Miss Jay’s Cafeteria at 618-874-8711.

The Illinois SBDC for the Metro East assists start-up ventures like Miss Jay’s Cafeteria, as well as existing businesses headquartered in the nine-county region of Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph. It is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and SIUE as a service to Illinois small businesses.

To learn about the SBDC, contact the IL SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE at (618) 650-2929.

For additional information regarding the Grow East St. Louis Fund, contact Henri Harper, the local NDC representative at or (319) 936-6611.

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