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Andy Chapman loves food. He loves eating it, talking about it and writing about it. He celebrates the farmers who grow it and the chefs who cook it. He’s even made a career that centers around local food.
As the creator of Eat Jackson, Chapman has expanded the culinary knowledge of the thousands of people who read his websites — Eat Jackson and sister sites Eat Y’all and Eat Mississippi Gulf Coast — and use his Eat Y’all Southern Food Products.
As involved as he is these days, Chapman admits he didn’t always have a good knowledge of food.
“As a child, I cooked entire meals for my siblings. I was a true Southern kid, and we ate what we had, which wasn’t always very much. We were farm-to-table way before it was cool,” he says. “We had our own little farm, and occasionally a 4-H lamb would make it to the table. We had chickens, goats that we milked, a huge vegetable garden and we even sold okra to restaurants in Louisville when I was a kid.
“We ground wheat berries for flour for breads, and were into granola before that was cool. My knowledge of food ingredients was limited to what was grown locally,” he says. “I certainly didn’t grow up having a framework of what good, local, quality food from local restaurants was like. When I became an adult and got out into the world, my perspective changed a lot.”
The more he ate out at local places, the more Chapman’s love of quality food served at locally owned restaurants grew.
“They used the same ingredients we used growing up, but in a new and different way,” he says.
In 2009, Chapman, now 37, started a Twitter account and connected with people looking for a unique dining experience. The more he connected, the more he wanted to share his discovery with others.
“I began tweeting about my food. My Twitter handle was ‘eatjxn,’ but no one knew who I was. That made it really fun for me. I would sit in a restaurant and tweet photos of my food, and people would be looking around trying to figure out who was sending them,” he says.
The eatjxn.com website was created mostly as a hobby for Andy, but, before long, people started asking Chapman food questions he couldn’t answer. He would turn to local chefs, then post the answers on the website.
“Pretty soon, we became a hub of information,” he recalls.
When Derek Emerson, chef at Walker’s in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood, invited Chapman and his wife, Marianna, to dinner at Walker’s because he liked the website, Chapman knew he was on to something. He wasn’t sure how, but Chapman told his wife that the site would someday be their livelihood.
“She wasn’t as confident as I was,” Chapman says.
But the idea exploded, and Chapman quickly had 2,000 followers on his Twitter account.
“I liked engaging people on that platform. We owned a web-hosting company and did marketing consulting for other companies, so we knew that part of it,” he says. “But I really knew we could do this when I wrote a story and put it on the website and had 42 visitors overnight that I did not know. People were finding out about us, and they liked what we were doing.”
While he may not have known much about food when he started the site in October 2009, Chapman laughs and says he has since earned a “Master’s in food.”
“I had Chef Andy Cook allow me to stand beside him in the Parker House, one of the hottest kitchens in the Jackson area at the time,” Chapman said. “He was so excited and passionate about what he was doing. After that, if I got a question I couldn’t answer, I’d just call a chef.”
About three months after he created @eatjxn on Twitter, Eat Jackson turned into a business instead of a hobby. Chapman’s approach to food has been different from most food-related information found on the Internet.
“We take a ‘redneck over the tailgate’ approach. Our goal was to break down barriers. For example, I had the idea that The Mermaid at Lake Caroline was a seriously fancy restaurant,” Chapman says. “My wife and I went to eat there and, while it was wonderful, it is certainly accessible to everyone. We reported on what kind of cars were in the parking lot, which gave folks an idea of what kind of people were eating there.”
Chapman sums it up on the Eat Jackson website by saying, “I’m just a regular guy like you. No snobby foodie here; just someone who appreciates and loves great food, service and atmosphere. And that’s what Eat Jackson is about to this day — sharing our real life, average guy (or girl) stories about the best places to eat in and around the Jackson, Miss., area.”
Marianna Chapman spent two years trying to persuade her husband to get back to “real work” before she relented and joined the family food business in 2011. With experience in business, writing and producing a web-based business TV show, she was a natural fit on the expanding business team. She is a farmer’s daughter and enjoys being an ambassador for Southern food products, the South’s farming community and local chefs.
The Chapmans now have a sister website, Eat Y’all eatyall.com, which is described by Chapman as “the official place where we explain food to the world with a Southern accent. We bring our perspective, whether we’re writing about France, San Francisco or Tutwiler, Miss. We don’t want to be limited geographically, and Eat Y’all provides the perfect platform for us.”
While there are a lot of food websites and bloggers, what makes the Chapmans different is they bring the chefs, restaurants, producers, content and people together in a dynamic way. They host a series of food-related events that put them face-to-face with their followers.
“Our first event was called a Bread Pudding Throwdown,” Chapman says.
That included bourbon tastings and coffee cuppings and 17 local restaurants competing as the public judged their bread pudding creations.
“We’ve had Crab Cake Throwdowns, 15 or so Chef’s Table events, and we’re putting on our second Sweetest Chefs of the South dessert competition on Sept. 12 in Ridgeland (eatyall.com/sweetestchefs/), which will benefit Extra Table, a non-profit specifically created to feed hungry families,” he says.
Chapman is particularly proud of his company’s partnership with Mississippi Seafood Marketing to produce the Mississippi Seafood Cook-Off as part of the Mississippi Seafood Experience.
“We attracted the best lineup of chefs and judges, and ultimately that chef (Alex Eaton from The Manship in Jackson) went to the Great American Seafood Cook-Off event in New Orleans and won the national crown,” Chapman says.
Continuing to expand their brand, the Chapmans not only help promote Mississippi food products, but they also manufacture their own barbecue sauces and rubs, including Sugar Taylor sauce, Sugar Taylor Creamy Sauce, Bonnie’s Hot Sauce and June Bugg Rub. They are also a distributor of Gourmet Guru grills.