She’s known as “The Connector.”
If you are looking for something or someone in the Greater Fayetteville area, Jenny Bell will either know the answer or know where to find the answer. It’s a special kind of talent. It’s definitely her Gift.
It helps that her day job is to literally know everything that is happening in town. As the voice behind Go Fayetteville, and Communications Coordinator at the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau. Jenny is a resource to all in the community, but once you meet her or even follow her online, you’ll understand quickly that it is much more than a job. She is passionate about the town that she’s chosen to live in, and more importantly, the people that make this town what it is.
Jenny is the epitome of #FayettevilleByChoice. She’s an incredible friend, showing up for people and for the community day in and day out. She’s a storyteller in it’s truest form. You can tell by her genuine interest in everyone she meets and the questions she asks them that really just get to the heart of the matter. Jenny is the kind of person that you just grab hold of and say, “You’re my friend now.”
And she is.
And, of course, she’s SUCH a foodie.
So it’s only natural that we wanted to sit down and talk to her about all things Fayetteville and food for our first “A Bite With” interview. We met recently at one of our favorite spots, Circa 1800, for lunch.
BTF: Okay Jenny, you’re not originally from Fayetteville. So what brought you to this area and why did you choose to stay?
Jenny: This is my second time living in Fayetteville. After my husband got out of the Army, we decided to make Fayetteville our home. We’d always called it our “adopted hometown,” so life came full circle, we us starting our military journey here and ending it here. Fayetteville holds a really special place in my heart— my son was born here, it’s still in the South and I’m a Southern girl at heart, and to me it’s a magical place. I was excited to return and stay.
BTF: Now, you’re originally from Texas. Is there any food here that reminds you of home? What food comforts you when you’re homesick?
Jenny: So, in Texas the main food groups are Barbecue, Mexican food, Chili, and Chicken Fried Steak.
BTF: Really? I knew the first three, but didn’t know about the Chicken Fried Steak. I thought you would say brisket.
Jenny: Well, in Texas, barbecue covers a multitude of meats, not just pulled pork. In fact, it was very confusing to me when I moved here and people would only refer to one type of meat as barbecue. That’s not how it works.
Once place in town that definitely reminds me of home is Fowler’s Southern Gourmet. When I first tried their food truck. I walked up to the window and I warned them. I said “I’m from Texas, and I’m going to be very picky. But, I still want to try your brisket.” And they asked me to leave a review if I liked it. I went on Facebook about a week later and wrote one of their very first reviews. They loved my review and since then I’ve just become friends with all the folks there. I’ve been there probably once a week since— it’s still an addiction. Shortly after that they introduced tacos to their menu and now they have my whole heart. If I’m not craving barbecue, I can get some amazing tacos. It’s the best of both worlds.
BTF: I love Fowler’s so much. Such a gem in Fayetteville. So, I want to know about some of your favorite spots. When you have people come to visit you from out of town, what are those local spots that you MUST take them to eat?
Jenny: Well, one of the things we talk about at the Visitors Bureau all the time is that Fayetteville doesn’t get enough recognition as being an international foodie city. I think that’s one thing we have going for us— and people here don’t even realize that it’s not typical for most Southern towns to have such an array of options.
I love going over to Reilly Road and Yadkin Road and trying the “hole-in-the-wall” Asian spots, or like Straight Drop Seafood’s original location— all the places off the beaten path of Skibo and Downtown. There are some amazing gems that most of Fayetteville don’t even know about. Usually, the military guys find them first.
Two places that come to mind, are sister restaurants. Umami is on Yadkin Road and it’s California and Japanese Fusion. The owner worked in hotels in Cali as a chef. He got burnt out and joined the military and was stationed at Fort Bragg. He saw the area didn’t have really good California style Japanese food.
BTF: I didn’t realize California had cornered the market on Japanese food!
Jenny: Apparently! Well, you know they truly do have their own style. So, he opened Umami and it was a such a hit that he opened Gohan Bistro on Reilly Road. They both have their own specialties, like Ramen or Sushi. But they have some really creative, funky, amazing food. They’re both just incredible. And they’re doing something that no one else is really doing, because it’s not your average Japanese Hibachi place and it’s super high-quality.
BTF: Tell me about your go-to places when you’re cooking, and not necessarily dining out. Are there any specialty stores that you like to support?
Jenny: Well, keeping with the international theme, I like going to Compare Foods for Latin food and the Asian market. But, I do love going to Downtown Market. They sell local pork, eggs, milk. If I want to stick with really good quality, local ingredients— they’re my go to if I’m not going to a Farmer’s Market.
The other night I needed a gift for a Christmas party, and I knew that Leclair’s General Store sells a range of local North Carolina beers. I went there specifically to get that and, of course, ended up grabbing a six-pack of Dirt Bag Ale’s Blood Orange Kolsch. I like that they also sell Southern Pines Brewing Company and other local beers.
BTF: Let’s talk about Date Nights! Where do you go?
Jenny: Honestly, if we’re doing fancy, it’s here at Circa— hands down. Not only for date night, but for a nice brunch on the weekend. It’s my go-to.
Jenny: For super casual hang-out definitely.
BTF: What do you feel like the Fayetteville food scene is missing?
Jenny: That’s a great question! Here’s one thing: breakfast tacos and burritos are HUGE in Texas. Somebody here would make a killing if they opened up a place like that. Just selling breakfast burritos and tacos. Most of the taquerias here don’t even open their doors until 11am. In Texas, they’re open at bright and early for workers.
Downtown Fayetteville specifically needs Asian food. Like a bougie little sushi bar would do amazing down here and be big hit. We have plenty of Italian and Turkish and American. But no Asian. Not sure why.
BTF: Do you drink coffee?
BTF: Where’s your go-to coffee place?
Jenny: Leclair’s carries Hatchet Coffee, out of Boone, North Carolina. It’s one of those things where you taste and it and you’re like “Wow. This is what coffee is supposed to taste like.”
BTF: Yes, we love their Mocha Nitro Cold Brew.
Jenny: It’s SO good. It will change the way you view coffee. So, definitely Leclair’s in Haymount. Downtown, I love The Coffee Cup. I adore Angela (the owner of The Coffee Cup), so when I’m out and about I pop in there for sure.
BTF: What about dessert?
Jenny: If I’m just getting a few little sweet treats, I go to The Sweet Palette. Their mini cheesecakes, I’m freaking obsessed with. They’re divine. If I’m out in Hope Mills, then Frostings CakeShop over by Millstone Movie Theater.
BTF: Jenny, it’s always a pleasure to get to sit, chat, and break bread with you! We love your big heart and your immense love for our city!
Now, you’re hungry, and have plenty of recommendations of places to try out in Greater Fayetteville, right?! Comment below and let us know what places you agree with Jenny about, and your own answers to the questions we asked her in this interview.
“A Bite With” is a series of interviews with residents of Fayetteville and the surrounding areas. We hope through this series that you’ll learn more about the community that you live while getting some great new recommendations of places to try.