By Haley Wilson
The Brown family home south of Bessemer is where Jason and Jamal Brown – brothers and owners of 1918 Catering – found their passion for creating meals.
âOur family address was at 1918 Berkely Avenue,â Jason said. “This is where all of our first memories were formed,â¦ especially with the food.”
âFood has always been at the center of our lives,â added Jamal. âBaby showers, you have food. Weddings, you have food. Family reunions, you have food. My whole family has always had Sunday dinners, and it has always served as a time of fellowship and bonding. â¦ We have really defined our identity around food.
So it was no surprise in 2015 when the Brown brothers started 1918 Catering LLC, a full-service, Homewood-based catering company that features many of their family’s recipes, including smoked chicken, fried green tomatoes, a spinach dip, a slow cooking barbecue, and much more.
Jason started cooking at the age of 7, watching and being mentored by their grandmother Fannie Mae Brown.
âMy grandmother kind of laid the groundwork for us. We were following the recipes she gave us, and it all started from there, âJason said.
âAll the men in our family know how to cook,â said Jamal. “You can’t go to their homes without them knowing how to cook you something.”
Their father, Enoch Brown Jr., worked for the US Steel Railroad in Birmingham, and their mother, Genetta Brown, worked as a nurse at the West Hospital of the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB).
Often times Jason would get up early to make breakfast for everyone before leaving for work or school: âMy parents really wanted us to be independent. I would make spam sandwiches, bologna sandwiches, or take out burgers for [my fatherâs] breakfast. Sometimes I made jelly toast for both [of my parents]. â¦ Overall, I would be the one providing the meals for the family.
It wasn’t long before Jamal, who is a year younger than Jason, followed in his brother’s footsteps.
âI grew up watching him,â Jamal said. “I quickly realized that it didn’t take long for us to go head to head to see who had the best version of any dish.”
The Brown brothers received an ESPN donation in 2020 that paved the way for their mobile food truck: 1918 Catering. They caught the attention of the media outlet, often referred to as the world’s leading sportsman, after providing more than 400 free meals to essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic – and received $ 5,000 from ‘Golic and Wingo’ hosts from ESPN. sports radio show.
âIt has been an interesting trip to see where just cooking for your family takes you,â Jason said. “It shows that if you start in love, everything else falls into place.”
Growing up in South Bessemer, graduates of Holy Family Catholic High School – Jason, 43, and Jamal, 42 – have always loved food.
âThere was always something about food for us,â Jamal said. âThe taste of the product certainly mattered, but there was always something about how it looked and smelled. [Weâve] always been big on presentation.
Their father planted a garden in the backyard of their Bessemer home, where the two brothers often picked fresh herbs and vegetables.
“We would go to the garden with [our father] pick fruits and harvest vegetables. My grandmother slaughtered pigs. â¦ These are some of the traditional things that have kind of stuck with us as we get older, âJason said.
As a teenager, the Brown brothers began making their own breakfasts, like jelly toast and sandwiches, and learning family recipes passed down from their grandmother. They would often grill sandwiches and burgers and invite family and friends to join in on these meals. These family reunions helped Jamal perfect his technique for smoking pork and brisket.
“The more I practiced grilling [the meats], the more I got better, âJamal said.
In the early 2000s, as the brothers gained more cooking experience, they decided to take cooking seriously and accepted offers from family and friends who needed food for events such as reunions. family and marriages. Plus, they’d be stepping out during the week-long Magic City Classic âdragging a smoker and serving barbecue with sidesâ festivities on the hatchbacks.
In 2004 Jason worked as Director of Operations in the Cardiovascular Services Department at St. Vincent Hospital and Jamal worked as a nurse at Cooper Green Hospital.
In addition to his day job, Jason took care of the catering business.
âI often observed what the caterers were doing. â¦ Some of them were good, and some of them weren’t that good. Seeing what they did right and what they did wrong helped me see what to do, âhe said. âFrom that point on I started asking some of the guys I worked with and some sales reps if we could make some of their lunches. “
In 2015, while preparing for an event at their home church in Bessemer, New Zion Missionary Baptist, a group of boys asked the Brown Brothers for their business name.
âWe didn’t have an answer for them so that really inspired us to go ahead and make it official with a real company,â Jason said.
Based in West Homewood since 2015, the brothers offer an extensive dining menu that includes smoked chicken and ribs, smoked sausage and peppers, seafood and desserts.
âWhen the company started out, we had the basic setup of a barbecue trailer,â Jason said. “It was just an outdoor trailer, and we put a grill and a steam table in it.”
Six months later the trailer was stolen, “crippling the business” for a while, Jason said.
âNot having a trailer didn’t stop us, however,â said Jamal. âSometimes we would go to our cold food concerts with just a tent and table setup. At that time, it was just a matter of getting started and providing the services.
These services included free meals for essential workers.
âA friend of mine who is on Twitter a lot knew we were out to provide meals. â¦ We had just done the work and fed the people, and [my friend] tweeted it on our behalf. the [hosts of the âGolic and Wingoâ show] sort of saw that tweet, and that’s where it happened, âJamal said.
âWe really wanted to give a helping hand to healthcare workers back then,â said Jason. âWe have a long history with the healthcare workers in our family. My brother is a nurse, my wife is a nurse, and my mother is a nurse.
âIt was just something that came naturally,â Jamal said. âGiven my health care history and that of our family, it was crucial for us to make sure we did something during [the COVID-19 pandemic] to let them know that everything they did was appreciated.
1918 Catering’s mobile food truck menu includes wings and fries, Philly cheese steak, collard greens, BBQ pork sandwiches, and Jamal’s favorite: the brisket.
âPeople love to say it’s so hard to cook, but the flavor and tenderness that falls off the bone is worth it,â said Jamal.
The 1918 food truck often has weekday and weekend rotations at the UAB campus and at US Steel Fairfield.
âWe had huge support from the city of Birmingham,â said Jamal. “[Birmingham] really knows how to show love and support which has allowed us to develop our brand.
To learn more about 1918 Catering, visit www.1918catering.com and www.facebook.com/1918restauration.
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