As Long As We’re Here, We Want To Help Other People: Highlighting Garfield Park Neighborhood Market Vendor J. Spice

Chefs Jamy Franklin and Taj Savage of CTRL Kitchen/ J. Spice. Photo grom the J. Spice website.

Tajuana ‘Taj’ Savage and her husband Jamy Franklin are active members of the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market community who are committed to giving back to the West Side. The two chefs own and manage a catering company, CTRL Kitchen, and J. Spice, a community-facing business selling a Caribbean Jerk Chicken menu and their special spices and sauces. The couple and business partners met in 2014 at Shedd Aquarium, where Jamy worked as the head caterer and Taj was head pastry chef. After a few years ofjuggling long hours catering big events and their catering side hustle, they decided to open their own business, officially launching CTRL Kitchen in 2018, followed by J. Spice in 2019.  

J. Spice at the October Garfield Park Neighborhood Market

The two chefs initially operated out of a foodhall in the West Loop and found some initial success as part of the Fooda community. Living on the West Side, first in Garfield Park and now in North Lawndale, the couple was able to access benefits at The Hatchery facility. They began using the shared kitchen space in February of 2020 and now rent a private kitchen space in the building.

J. Spice Cuisine, the community-focused arm of their venture, has become a regular vendor at the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market, where their sales and customers have increased over time. At the market, they sell prepared meals from their jerk menu as well as their custom seasonings and sauces. According to Taj:

“The Garfield Park Neighborhood Market is a really great opportunity, because it gives the exposure. It’s like a family there. It’s exciting because once you’re there, people pretty much look for you.”

Chef Jamy and Chef Taj have also been active in meal and food relief efforts. With their catering background and CTRL Kitchen business, they had the capacity to offer high volume meal service to hospitals and communities through Off Their Plate. In addition to offering meals to frontline and essential workers, the chefs also raised funds to feed elders and veterans. Working with partners like Forty Acres and Midwest Foods, they organized and delivered grocery bags to seniors at assisted living homes.

Jamy and Taj learned that many of the seniors they served also wanted cooked meals, and the chefs joined the Hatch Made Meals pilot. Through this program and other partnerships, J. Spice and CTRL Kitchen have been able to share more meals with community members. They worked with Angela Taylor, Wellness Coordinator for the Garfield Park Community Council, to offer food at summer PlayStreets events. More recently, they shared pizzas with families at the Harvest Fest on The Hatchery plaza, in honor of Chef Jamy’s birthday. For Jamy and Taj, giving back to the West Side is an important commitment:

“As long as we’re here, we want to help other people.”

The chefs and their pizzas at the Harvest Fest at The Hatchery in 2020

As part of The Hatchery food business community, Jamy and Taj have also benefited from workshops with The Hatchery Chicago. They were selected for the Neighborhood Entrepreneurship Lab with Allies for Community Business, which they said was very helpful. At the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market, they’ve seen increased interest in their products; they’ve had to shut down curbside pickup due to rising demand. And they still get a lot of catering orders.

Despite the challenges of the past two years, Taj and Jamy have been able to maintain their business. At its pre-pandemic height their business employed twelve people; now they’re working with seven employees. They’ve made it a point to hire teenagers and “people who need a second chance.” They have also grown their family, welcoming a second child this summer.

J. Spice sells jerk sauce and spices; the same blend as they use in their catering. Photo by Buzz McBride

J. Spice and CTRL Kitchen plan to continue participating in the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market and sharing and selling meals in the community:

“We’re very grateful for the opportunity, and we plan on sticking around. We plan on staying a part of the family.”

Shop from J. Spice and other West Side businesses this season through the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market's Virtual Market!