JFires’ owner reflects on five years

JFires’ owner Jennifer Pensoneau and her daughter Miranda sit outside the restaurant at 725 North Market Street. (Robyn Dexter photo)

Throughout all of 2014, JFires’ Market Bistro on Market Street in Waterloo is celebrating five years of serving the community delicious food.

As the days warm up and summer hits Monroe County, the restaurant will be busier than ever, with patrons flocking to the outside patio for their favorite dish and maybe to enjoy live music.

Owner, Jennifer Pensoneau said the JFires’ crew has big things planned for this summer, including an official five-year celebration June 21.

The restaurant’s official five-year anniversary was Jan. 21, but Pensoneau said since winters are slower, they planned to host an event six months later.

“We’ll have music, gifts, attendance prizes and stick with the ‘five’ theme with items discounted at $5,” she said. “I really want to do something to say thank you to the community, because they’re what have gotten us this far.”

Pensoneau also hopes to use this summer to sort of rebrand JFires’ from being known for Cajun food to being known for seafood and steak.

“The first two or three years, we were known for our fresh pasta and wood-burning oven, but it wasn’t coming together as what to classify ourselves as,” she said. “So now, we’ve noticed that our seafood is a big hit. It just makes sense.”

Pensoneau said she wants to still keep some of the Cajun aspects since she studied in New Orleans and Italy, but really wants to market JFires’ as a seafood restaurant overall.

“We’re at a really good place right now,” she said. “I like where we’re heading.”

Pensoneau said to her, this five-year mark means she can finally go out with her husband.

“We got together when I first bought this place, and I told him it would be five to seven years before I would have time off,” she said with a laugh. “That was my goal to break even and know where we’re heading… to feel comfortable.”

As far as her goals and how her restaurant is run, Pensoneau said she feels great.

“We have incredible employees,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to this summer. Good, strong workers make everything easier.”

When asked what has changed over the past five years, Pensoneau said, “what hasn’t changed?”

She highlights bringing in different kinds of seafood and creating a dish where the patron can choose their sides to go along with it.

Pensoneau said her garden at her house, along with the garden at the restaurant itself are both shaping up well with fresh greens for the restaurant.

“It should be supplying a lot of our ingredients,” she said. “I have potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, kale, lettuces, bell pepper, onions, sugar snap peas and corn.”

JFires’ is a unique restaurant for many reasons, but Pensoneau takes great pride in the originality of the food that is served.

“A lot of restaurants serve food that’s pre-made and pre-done, but we just don’t do that here,” she said. “I will not bend on that. It’s who I am as a chef and what makes us unique.”

Anywhere she goes, Pensoneau said she gets great feedback on the restaurant’s food.

“There’s just so much love and people tell me not to change,” she said. “It’s just awesome. I want people to come in and feel like they’re at home.”

The restaurant, oddly enough, got its name from a nickname of Pensoneau’s.

“My first vehicle was a Pontiac Sunfire, and when personalized license plates were free in Illinois, I knew I had to come up with a good name,” she said. “I came up with JFire.”

Though she said no one in Illinois really picked up on it, it was all she was known by in New Orleans when she moved there.

“When I came back up here (to Illinois), I had several sheets of paper coming up with names, and JFires’ just kept coming up,” she said. “It fits with the wood-burning oven, it’s catchy and it doesn’t tie us down to one specific thing.”

This summer, Pensoneau said she’s looking forward to the fourth of July bash, weddings and having people outside enjoying the nice weather and the outside patio.

“You can’t not be happy when you’re here,” she said.

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