Walls decorated with local art, a homemade quilt draped over a bench, an art exhibit in the garden out back, a framed print of New Orleans overlooking a table – at J. Gumbo’s, Robbie Morgan took a much-loved Cajun food franchise and turned it into something that not only reflects her personality but also highlights the diversity of the North Limestone neighborhood and the rich collaboration of Lexington’s culture.
Morgan was originally drawn to food when she noticed the way it gathers people from all walks of life and how it inherently builds camaraderie. From growing up helping in an array of family businesses to opening the American Girl Café in Chicago to pioneering the Crave Festival here in Lexington, Morgan’s culinary experience is unique, but her drive continues to reignite her passion for uniting people around a table.
It’s this passion and her appreciation for the diversity of her own neighborhood that led her to open J. Gumbo’s in early November in the North Limestone area – an area that is not only a growing part of Lexington, but one that Morgan calls home. She understands the neighborhood and wants to represent NoLi well while investing in the area.
“Gentrification can be mixed. It can offer some things for the people who have been here for thirty years and it can offer some things for the people who will be here for the next thirty years,” she explained, reflecting on the up-and-coming north side, and her desire to be a part of it. “I hope it’s balanced. There is an incredible contribution for most people to make if they’re asked. If we see that there’s a lot of human capital out there and invite it in, we will continue to be an interesting, thriving city.”
This vision to enrich an area while preserving its personal sense of home marks much of her dream for J. Gumbo’s. Beyond the décor, Morgan wanted to ensure the price point and food offerings were fitting for the area. She committed to finding her own niche in the eclectic businesses of the north side while also collaborating with businesses from all over Lexington. Utilizing her unique talents to give the Cajun-creole food her own spin, she’s made a franchise completely her own to give customers a one-of-a-kind experience.
Above all else, she wants to meet more and more of her neighbors.
“I want it to be a neighborhood place where people feel like they’re invited to come cozy in. I really want people to feel like it’s a home, that it’s a place they can go relax and eat good food and see their neighbors.”
Morgan is looking forward to trying out some fun ideas for the spring, such as hush puppy happy hours, grill outs and a beer garden. In the meantime, she will continue serving up jambalayas, chilis and unique specials (such as some seriously exceptional bread pudding). First and foremost, though, Morgan will continue creating a space for Lexington to gather in the heart of NoLi.
Q+A with Robbie Morgan
Your favorite thing to cook? Bread pudding
Guilty pleasure food? John Foster’s risotto at Sage Rabbit
Favorite spot to visit in Lex? McConnell Springs
What would we be surprised to learn? I’m in an all-female punk rock band
What’s on your Lexington bucket list? Waveland Historic Site
What are you most looking forward to about the holidays? I really enjoy my family; we tell bad jokes