By Allison Antram


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

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 30-35 minutes
You'll need: 
1 tbsp olive oil
4 stalks celery with leaves (ribbed and trimmed but leave the leaves on, they are tasty!) - rough dice*
1 medium green bell pepper -- rough dice
1 medium onion - rough dice
1 garlic cloves -minced
1 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it a little spicy)
Pinch black pepper and sea salt
2 bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock (low or reduced sodium)
28 oz canned tomatoes (low or reduced sodium)
1 cup white rice
1 cup pulled cooked chicken (thigh meat is best for flavor)
1-lb cooked andouille sausage sliced to about 1/8" (buy whole and slice it before you put it in the dish)
In a large soup pot:
Heat oil on medium heat but not to smoke
Add minced garlic, cook 1-2 minutes, stir occasionally
Add the holy trinity (green bell peppers, onions and celery) and cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, stir occasionally 
HINT: The rough dice on these ingredients ensures they don't cook down too much in the dish and lose all the flavor.
Add fresh thyme, oregano, chili powder, cayenne, bay leaves, black pepper and salt stir into the trinity mix, cook for 1-2 minutes
HINT: Adding spices at this stage warms the spices and helps release the flavors.
Gently fold your meats into the mix
Add diced tomatoes, stir
Add rice and chicken stock, stir the mix to combine
Put a lid on and leave it on 
Cook on medium heat for 30-40 minutes, or until the rice fluffs but is still chewy (al dente). 
HINT: Don't over work, or over stir this dish. It breaks the elements down too much and the mix gets mushy. A good jambalaya has al dente rice and cooked through but still present vegetables complimented by the chunks of savory meats.