Eatery owner serves up more than food

Mike Reyna of Clovis visits with Velma Jackson as she fixes Reyna a plate Monday. June 30 will be the longtime owner’s last day at Velma’s Country Cookin’ Resturaunt. CNJ photo by Eric Butler.

By Eric Butler, CNJ Correspondent

When Velma’s Country Cookin’s closes at the end of the month, customers will obviously miss Velma Jackson’s steady supply of ribs, brisket, pork chops, chicken, vegetables and pies.

That’s not all the regulars will miss. That back-and-forth banter between proprietor and customer will not be so easy to replace either.

Jackson has been serving eats from her West Seventh street location since 1982. She will call it quits after a June 30 closing-day celebration.

“When I first came in here, she’d say, ‘What do you want to eat?’” recalls Mike Reyna, a Clovis insurance agent who has been eating at Velma’s for the last 15 years. “I said, ‘Nothing — until I see you smile.’”

It’s usually Velma, though, who brings the biggest grins and laughs in the long run.

“It must be something about me. They (her customers) mess with me until I stop what I’m doing and let ’em have it — until I get them to laugh,” Jackson said.

Jackson, who recently turned 79, is a native of the East Texas town of Crockett. But she’s been cooking up her specialties for Clovis-area residents for 53 years — including 20 at Cannon Air Force Base.

The restaurant, including all of the equipment, is up for sale and Jackson said an interested buyer is trying to secure the financing to get the deal done.

Nevertheless, Velma’s part in the eatery will be over next week.

While word hasn’t reached everyone in the community who has eaten at Velma’s, many have heard the news and are coming for one last round of food and verbal teasing.

“It’s delicious food, it’s all good. Plus, the personality — she’s what makes the whole thing great,” said Sharon Blair, who added that a summertime trip to Clovis from her Fort Worth home was timed to catch the end of Velma’s.

“I’m tellin’ you. We came up to visit my sister and we decided to do it now because we heard it was closing.”

“It’s terrible. We come here a lot,” said J.D. Pierce, who has done his share of teasing Velma. “Oh yeah, we all give her a pretty bad time.”

Jackson said grown men like Pierce tug at her heart strings the most — when she thinks of not cooking for them anymore. Thinking of them even can draw tears when Velma is in church far away from her business.

“Every Sunday, I sit up in the choir, and I start cryin,’” she said. “Someone will ask me why and I say, ‘What do you wanna know for?’ I’m gonna miss everybody.”

Jackson said she plans to issue a 60-recipe cookbook about the same time the restaurant closes.

“They can call me if they don’t understand something,” she said.

Jackson said her day usually begins at 3 a.m. as she prepares for the noon crowd.

She’s looking forward to a new routine.

“I’m going to go to sleep, then I’m going to wake up and eat something,” she said. “Then I’m going to go back to sleep. Then I’m going to wake up and eat something — and go back to sleep again. I’m going to do that until I’m a regular person again.”