Thelma’s Kitchen comes to Clanton with first restaurant

Published 12:44 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

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By Carey Reeder| Managing Editor

One of the most established food trucks in the Birmingham area now has its first storefront operation in the heart of Clanton. Thelma’s Kitchen Food Truck has been a staple in the southeast for over 25 years with Renita and James Brown traveling the region to festivals and gatherings serving up their family’s recipes.

James Brown’s mother, Thelma, was a talented cook her whole life. She cooked for small gatherings and receptions like baby showers when cooking for the public. James took notice of that, quickly joining his mother’s interest in cooking.

Then, in 1997, James purchased a food truck to start his own restaurant business. A short time later, Thelma let her cooking business go and she joined her son aboard the food truck, and Thelma’s Kitchen was born.

“She had been cooking for five years for the public, and then once I got started I thought ‘There is no sense in letting a good thing go,’ because whenever she cooked the food was gone,” James Brown said. “She was always in the kitchen making good food. I know everyone says their mother can cook because that is what you grew up eating, but she had a taste of the public. Whenever she cooked, everyone loved it.”

James Brown kept his recipes closely based on hers, and Thelma continued to cook with her recipes that have been in the Brown family for generations. Even after her passing, James still kept his mother’s recipes alive and, on the menu, never letting her spirit die. The menu now is a combination of over 25 years of recipes tweaked to perfection, and cooked with love.

Renita met James and she immediately started helping him with the food truck, and when the two married, it became a family business. The couple helped the food truck and business flourish, but having a sit-down style of restaurant was always the goal. They tried their hand at it a few years ago, but the time was not ideal for them. However, the few months they had it, they could see the success grow with it in the short amount of time.

“The success was there, but we had problems with management,” James Brown said. “We always wanted a brick and mortar (store), and this is just the next level up from the food truck.”

Thelma’s Kitchen Food Truck was a mainstay at gatherings and festivals in Chilton County for years as the couple attended events like The Reunion and Peach Jam Jubilee serving hungry residents. The visits gave them a chance to see the landscape of the area, and those experiences gave them the peace of mind that Clanton may be a good spot for their first sit-down restaurant.

James is friends with the owner of the building on Second Avenue in West End, and for as many as 10 years he tried to get him to put a restaurant in there. Finally, in April 2024, he did.

“It is exciting, but it is also scary because you are trying to build your clientele, and you are in uncharted waters being different from the food truck,” Renita Brown said. “We are so excited, though. We are looking for the people to come out so we can feed them.”

Thelma’s Kitchen sits at 1211 2nd Ave. N, Clanton and serves fresh, handmade food daily, including the chicken tenders and fries that are made fresh. 90% of the food that comes from the restaurant is none processed. The only things on the menu that are not prepared in the restaurant are the hotdog, sweet potato fries and okra. Everything else is hand prepared in the kitchen and cooked to order.

Inside, the restaurant is intimate and colorful, and an image of its namesake greets guests from the wall behind the counter, letting Thelma’s legacy carry on furthermore with the same goals in mind — community, food and love.

“The people of West End have been really supporting us a lot, coming in almost every day to get something to eat. We are excited to be in West End and seeing new customers come in each day,” Renita Brown said. “We cook with love. We love our neighbors, and we try to spread some love because we need more of that around here.”