Jonnetta Patton produces her best work anytime she helps others follow their passion. The mother and former manager of Grammy-winning entertainer Usher has morphed her business savvy into a new endeavor, J’s Kitchen Culinary Incubator, LLC, to empower food and beverage entrepreneurs into creating successful businesses.
“We are a nurturing environment that fosters growth,” Patton declares. “Whatever your goals and dreams are, that’s my interest. And that’s what gets me ticking. I want to deal with people of integrity.” Based out of Doraville, Ga., J’s Kitchen Culinary Incubator offers chefs, bakers, caterers and epicurean specialists three state-of-the-art shared kitchens, a baker’s kitchen, a private master kitchen, a tasting area, dry goods holding space and walk-in coolers and freezers.
Computer portal stations, two conference rooms and a classroom round out the Chattanooga, Tenn. native’s 4,200 square foot undertaking. Operating on three-year action plans, the aspiring business owners receive customized consultation and advisement from an extensive rolodex of professionals and experts: becoming more informed about certifications, permits, licenses, insurance, procurement, marketing, safety and sanitation standards.
Patton believes evolving from managing recording artists to developing culinary aficionados isn’t a difficult change of pace. The goal, she says, is for the culinary entrepreneurs to develop, grow and sustain their visions. “It’s a form of entertainment, which is what I do,” the family-oriented Middle Tennessee State alumna reveals with her legs crossed as she juggles multiple hand mannerisms.
“Chefs are artists. They’re just as particular about their art, and food is art. There is no difference. Chefs have big egos. Artists do as well.”
Patton’s interest in food is deeply rooted in seeing her mother during the Christmas holidays preparing meals, especially macaroni and cheese and collard greens, also two of Patton’s signature dishes. At home, the delightful strategist wearing a feathered, autumn-colored bang over her forehead is known to host and organize elaborate parties and dinners with savory menus.
For the last 20 years, Patton, the founder/owner of JPat Management and a limousine service, would organize Thanksgiving meals at her home. She decided the last two years to pay it forward to the less fortunate. Co-founding her megastar son’s peer-to-peer, youth-purposed nonprofit organization, Usher’s New Look, Patton manages her own foundation, JP’s Recipe for Life. Her initiative seeks to help families manage and prevent diabetes.
A Type 2 diabetic herself, Patton, whose grandson is a Type 1 diabetic, hosted a Christmas breakfast for Mary Hall Freedom House, a shelter in north Atlanta that provides lodging and assistance to women and families dealing with homelessness, addiction, poverty and mental illness. One particular conversation Patton has with Lucy Hall-Gainer, Mary Hall Freedom House’s founder and CEO, regarding healthy dieting leaves the businesswoman speechless. Patton inquired about the number of folks living in the shelter affected by diabetes.
Unfortunately, Gainer didn’t know. There are plans to start providing health screenings to those underserved individuals. “There are a lot of people walking around not knowing that they have diabetes,” Patton says, periodically interrupted mid-sentence by event attendees and volunteers for selfies.
“We want to provide healthy meals and promote a healthy lifestyle to prevent and maintain.” Exiting the entertainment world for nine years only to return with the idea for J’s Kitchen Culinary Incubator was initially met with some resistance from Usher and members of her staff.
“He didn’t understand it; my accountant didn’t understand it either,” Patton recalls. It took some convincing, but the Confessions performer, who himself acquired stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers, the streaming service Tidal and at one point, his own fragrance, gave Patton some suggestions.
Usher convinced his enterprising matriarch to create her digital footprint using social media. Patton was hesitant at first, claiming it’s “too much information.” Mentioning that her social media profiles connected her with her publicist, Patton expresses that embracing technology became “the best thing that could’ve ever happened.”
Humbling herself enough to take Usher’s advice proved effective: bringing Patton and son closer. Usher, Patton acknowledges, gives her ongoing praise for her perseverance. “He told me last week ‘I’m proud of you.’ That made me very happy because he is on top of his game. For him to wrap his arms around it solidified it,” she shares.
Spending the last 25 years fueling others’ aspirations is an accomplishment Patton appreciates. She says there wasn’t a better time to figure out what would give her personal fulfillment.
“This time around, I’m really doing things for myself,” Patton acknowledges. “All of the other times, I did it for other people. I’m living in my purpose under my terms.”
Even with a successful track record to her credit, Patton’s primary job is being a “mother first.” Before she hands out a slew of gifts, toys and household items to several families, she whispers to her personal driver, a recovering drug addict, how proud she is of him. Pacing and observing the entire dining space invigorates Patton. It’s living proof that her willingness to see to it that the people around her can prosper has allowed her to feel like her work is far from over.
“I enjoy what I’m doing right now,” Patton declares. “It’s not work. I want to document what I’m doing with them. Their mission is my mission, too. It’s an industry I had to learn. Anytime you’re passionate about something, it’s very easy.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a visiting instructor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.