If you can keep up with Jenny Levison this year as she appears on the NBC’s morning Today Show for the sixth time, or as she stirs the pots in the kitchen on Sundays at her second restaurant, Cafe Jonah, named after her son, or as she converts a food truck into a soon-to-be-launched mobile juice business – you would wonder how she does it all. You will also find her signing copies of her second book at the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market on Saturdays or singing and dancing across Atlanta stages in various theatrical productions – one of which her restaurant staff writes, produces and stars.
“I can thank my friend Andrea. What happened to her really taught me a lesson about living now and not putting off things for the future and doing everything you can in the present,” she told us in our accompanying Moments video interview.
In 2001, Jenny was getting up every morning at 4 a.m. and heading into her two-year-old business, Souper Jenny, in the Buckhead village in Atlanta, but she felt she was still searching for what she wanted to do with her life.
That’s when her Moment occurred, sparking her to realize that she had to commit with greater zeal to what she was already doing and to commit to doing the other things that she really wanted to do in life.
“I was sort of waiting for things to come to me,” Jenny told us. “For ideas or for other people to tell me what to do.
“My Moment was a bittersweet Moment, but it really changed everything about the way I do business and the way I live my life now. A really good friend, Andrea, was the girl that I emulated. She had incredible energy, was an entrepreneur, self-employed. She really attacked everything with gusto and joy. And I loved that about her.
“In 2001, her life changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t think I ever witnessed anyone fight as hard as she did and she continued to live her life like she wanted to until she passed about three years later. Even though I was already in my early 30s it was probably the first time I felt my own mortality and probably the first time I really took a Moment and stopped to think: What are you waiting for?
“Even though I had already started the business, I was still waiting for something to begin. That was the year I made a huge shift in my life. I made a list, my vision, of the things I wanted to do in the next five years and I started having more concrete goals instead of doing just whatever fell in my life. And I stopped being afraid.”
This from a woman who had prior to her 2001 Moment had already spent time waiting tables at Dock’s Seafood in New York City while auditioning for TV shows and then moved to Los Angeles near her mom and stepdad to audition for commercials while working in a little restaurant near the studios called Mary’s Lamb in a quaint cottage. She then moved back to Atlanta to open her own cafe called Jenny’s Marketplace before meeting her husband and leaving for nearly two years to sail around the world on a honeymoon.
An Atlanta native and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s theatre department, Jenny most of all loves preparing and serving good, nutritious and naturally grown food. She learned her signature dish, “My Dad’s Turkey Chili” recipe while watching her father refine the dish that he cooked for roommates in law school. At age 13, she prepared a full-course romantic meal for her dad and her stepmom for their second anniversary.
As she wrote in the introduction to her first book, “Souper Jenny Cooks,” while working at Mary’s Lamb she learned “you do not go into the restaurant business to make big bucks. People who own and operate restaurants are in love; with the food, with the customers, with the staff and with all the crazy and bizarre things that can happen on any given day. I loved all of it.”
After learning about soups on her round–the-world trip to 25 countries with her new husband, she returned to Atlanta and, though her marriage ended, she found the space she abandoned two years before still available, signed a lease and began her now famous soup business in 1999. That success led her to open Cafe Jonah and the Magical Attic almost two years ago. Ten percent of all sales go to charity.
This year, she published her second book, “Souper Jenny Does Salads.” Jenny’s mother wrote the Foreword: “As you may have guessed, in my eyes Jenny is a superstar. She has so many reasons to be proud of herself, but if you asked her what she considers her proudest accomplishment, she would likely answer, ‘being Jonah’s mother.’ She approached mother like everything else, giving it her all.”
Disclosure: Chris Schroder’s wife, Jan Schroder, published both of Jenny’s books.
Next week in Moments: Thomas Dimitroff, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, as the team opens training camp next week.
Don’t miss previous Moments from Season Two: Solon Patterson, Charles Ackerman,Santa Claus, Mark McDonald, Frank Skinner, Tom Murphy, Matt Arnett, Kasim Reed, Alana Shepherd, Charles Driebe, Hank Aaron, Kevin Rathbun, Larrie Del Martin, Mike Luckovich, Dan Matthews.
Don’t miss previous Moments from Season One: Arthur Blank, Doug Hertz, Thomas Dimitroff, Jenny Levison, Brad Cunard, Joe Roberts, Plemon El-Amin, Bob Williams, Gary Price, John Dewberry, Bill Tush, Milton Little, Hope Arbery, Bo Jackson, Lisa Borders, Tom Key, Bob Voyles, Joyce Fownes, Joel Babbit, John Pruitt, Noel Khalil, Chuck Leavell, Bill Nigut, Eveylyn Winn-Dixon, Steve Nygren, Chris White, Josh Starks, Ryan Gravel, Shirley Franklin, Sam Massell and Clark Howard
Video by Reid Childers of Eyesome Productions.