Student brings a piece of Chicago to Charleston

Thaija Evans, Verge Designer


Many students miss home-cooked meals and food from their hometown restaurants while away at college.

Charleston is filled with pizza places and fast food, but for one student, that was not enough.

James Jackson, a junior communication studies major, brought “AJ’s Chicken,” a food truck selling fried chicken, right to Charleston.

“AJ’s Chicken” is located in the backyard of Jackson’s house on 1015 4th St.

“Well, I transferred here last year, and I noticed there wasn’t anything good to eat,” Jackson said. “I was eating McDonald’s three or four times a week.”

To solve this problem, Jackson began frying chicken in his home for himself and his friends using a frying pan and a hot plate.

By the summer of 2016, he was frying chicken for some of the athletes at Eastern.

“I’ve already been ‘the chicken man’ to the football team and some of the athletic guys,” Jackson said.

Jackson said after his success cooking from home, he decided a food truck was the next step.

He said the popular Chicago-based chicken company Harold’s Chicken and their food trucks in the city inspired him.

Destiny Collins, a junior double majoring in political science and pre-law, said the food truck is adding to the culture in Charleston.

“This business brings a piece of home from Chicago to Charleston,” Collins said. “It creates a good dynamic in Charleston by adding more options to what people can eat.”

Jackson bought an RV in Peoria for $11,000 with the help of his family members.

“Just moving with the times, a food truck is in now,” Jackson said. “It’s cheaper to run a food truck.”

Jackson said he spent the entire summer renovating the RV with his uncle to transform the tiny home into a mobile chicken shack.

“I had to gut the whole thing from front to back, make everything up to code, put fireproof walls in, stainless steel, the vent on the top,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the $13,000 renovations to the RV were worth it.

Now, he said, the only thing left to make his food truck official is to get a paint job on the outside of the RV, complete with the company’s name plastered on it.

But for Jackson, this is more than a get-rich-quick business. It is a future franchise.

“I want to work for myself,” Jackson, who comes from a family of business owners, said.

“Residual income is the only income in my eyes,” Jackson said. “On the clock is not really worth it.”

He said he hopes his food truck will do well enough over the next six months so he can open a store.

Jackson, his uncle and his roommate serve the fresh, made-to-order food to about 70 customers a day. When his clientele increases, he will hire more people, Jackson said.

“Every day I get more and more customers,” Jackson said. “So once I get like 200 a day, that’s probably when I’ll have to bring in a team.”

Denisha Olasupo, a senior family and consumer sciences major, said the food was good and she has already recommended it to a couple of people.

“It can really make the black community of EIU feel like they can have easier access to food that can remind them of home,” Olasupo said.

Jackson said he hopes students will spread the word and get more people to come out and try the chicken and hopefully get the truck on campus.

Jackson said he plans on adding chicken tenders, boneless chicken, mozzarella sticks, pizza puffs and fish to the menu.

Their biggest issue right now is finding a space to store all of their food and supplies, he said.

For Jackson, this is only the beginning.

“I’ll probably graduate and have a couple companies,” Jackson said.


Thaija Evans can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].