Uncovering the story behind Jackson’s Catfish Corner’s first franchise food truck.
by Sharon Maeda
Special to the South Seattle Emerald
I’ve been to Honolulu many times, but this trip was a retirement gift to myself to visit friends and explore more of the island, local culture, and food. As an Emerald retiree, I didn’t intend to submit story ideas or write while here. But when I happened upon this discovery, I couldn’t help myself.
One day, I stopped to check out a Micronesian market. As I turned the corner from the parking lot, my heart dropped. There was a beautiful new red food truck with a Jackson’s Catfish Corner logo on it. My first thought: “OMG, someone copied Terrell’s logo.” As a regular customer to Jackson’s Catfish Corner on 23rd and Jackson — no, it’s not named for the street, but for its owner, Terrell Jackson! — I instantly recognized the logo. I whipped out my cellphone and started taking photo “evidence” to show him when I returned to Seattle.
To my great surprise, this Honolulu truck is the first Jackson’s Catfish Corner franchise. I stopped in enough times during my visit to attest that the catfish, hush puppies, and sauce are the same recipes and same great quality as the Seattle original! The first Catfish Corner was run by Jackson’s grandparents, Woody and Rosemary Jackson, from its original location on MLK and Cherry. Over time, they retired, and the family continued the tradition in various sites around South Seattle. When the new building on 23rd and Jackson was in development, Jackson jumped at the chance to locate on his namesake street and not have to deal with the vagaries of relocating again and again. After having followed the family through all of their locations, I was delighted to be walking distance from their permanent location. Their catfish is tender and juicy on the inside and crisp on the outside without any excess batter. But, little did I expect to find my favorite catfish in Honolulu.
I did a little digging and found out the story behind Jackson’s Catfish Corner’s expansion to Honolulu. Bay Area hip-hop artist J-Diggs visited Seattle, ate at Jackson’s Catfish Corner, and was hooked. He and his 21-year-old entrepreneur son, Jamal, bought the franchise. Starting this May, the Diggses met with Jackson. He flew in to participate with them at the Waikiki Night Market and other community festivals this spring, to great success. The Diggses struck a deal with Jackson and ordered a new, custom-designed food truck and found a strategic location. Jackson’s Catfish Corner by GIFT’D (Got It From The Dirt) started operating in July on busy six-lane Kapiolani Boulevard, surrounded by the Hawai‘i Convention Center and an exotic dance club, ensuring customers from lunch to well into the night.
After only two months in business, it’s only a matter of time before visitors and locals alike find their way to Jackson’s Catfish Corner by GIFT’D. This unique food truck was just featured in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly tabloid food section, Crave.
Sometimes franchises dilute what’s great about the original, but the Diggses have that same family commitment and enthusiasm as the Jacksons. Jamal Diggs’ younger brother, Jarell, works the food truck full-time as well. On my first visit, Jarell wanted my feedback on whether his cooking met the Seattle test. Absolutely! I’m sure the Ohbama Burger will be popular here in the former president’s childhood hometown, too.
When I called Jackson for comment, his excitement flew over the 2,700 miles between Seattle and Honolulu. “It was all in God’s plan,” he said. “By doing this, we can bless another family with a business that will build generational wealth. All the other Seattle sites and dealing with slum landlords were all stepping stones to this; each step led to this.” Jackson had been involved in his grandparents’ original Catfish Corner since he was 14 years old. Now, he’s passing on his expertise to the young Diggs brothers.
Jackson’s goal is to enable other families to own a franchise and build something that they can pass on in their families too. “This is for every culture, Black, Asian, white. I want everyone to have [a franchise]!”
With all the racial strife and economic stress the country is facing, it’s heartwarming to see a Black-owned family business thrive and pass it on, spreading the great southern catfish tradition of Woody and Rosemary Jackson across the Pacific.
Find the GIFT’D Jackson’s Catfish Corner on Instagram, on its website, and in person at 1770 Kapiolani Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96814.
Sharon Maeda came out of retirement to support the Emerald as interim managing editor and planning director until 2022. She will continue to write as she finds more community stories that need to be shared. As a public school teacher, she found media as a way to empower students and ended up with a long media career. She managed the Pacifica Radio network (Los Angeles) as well as Seattle community radio stations KRAB-FM and KVRU-FM.
📸 Featured Image: Jackson’s Catfish Corner by GIFT’D on Honolulu’s Kapiolani Boulevard. (Photo: Sharon Maeda)
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