Business, People

Laid-off Autoworker to Second-Chance Winning ‘Soul Daddy’

A few months ago, Jamawn (Jay) Woods was just another Detroit anecdote, a classic lead on a tired story. This week, he’s transformed from stereotype to superstar.

That’s American reality television for you. I prefer another take – this is what the real Detroit is all about. Switching careers, making changes, taking risks and earning the rewards.

In case you were too busy watching the news and being all current event-y, Woods is the winner of NBC’s “America’s Next Great Restaurant,” which the network billed as a “new alternative series,” whatever that means. It was a pretty good idea for a show: Take 10 everyday people and let their original restaurant concepts battle it out for a great prize. The winner got to open a restaurant chain in NYC, Hollywood and Minneapolis.

Woods, 34, told me was a laid-off automotive worker (forklift driver at Chrysler) who wanted something better for his family. So he went out to Chicago when he heard about the show tryouts. The Cooley High grad had been doing part-time catering out of his home, so he knew something about good food.

We spoke just hours after his plane landed in New York City, where he was off to visit one of his three “Soul Daddy” restaurants. Just having one would have been amazing, Woods said. But to have three new babies (on top of his three kids) is pretty awesome.

“It’s been great. Life has been great,” Woods said. “Going to the (Hollywood) opening was something else, watching people eat this whole new style of soul food with smiles on their faces. We had so much good feedback.”

Soul Daddy is Woods’ take on healthy eating. He uses the classic flavors he grew up with and, with the help of “America’s Next Great Restaurant” judges, updated them to appeal to more of today’s calorie-conscious diners. Woods said he also wanted to offer something new to the African-American community.

“Being from Detroit, I know we love our soul food. But we don’t always pay attention to what we’re putting in our bodies; we just want the taste,” Woods said. “So we put our twist on it and made it lighter. You can eat this for lunch and dinner; it’s so light and healthy. There’s nothing fried on the menu. … You don’t have to worry about unbuckling your pants after eating – you won’t feel so heavy or full.”

Here’s how one of the judges described Woods…couldn’t resist lifting it from the press release. “A passion for food, a solid work ethic, good business sense and delicious meals are what the investors were searching for on this series and Jamawn embodies all of those traits and more. He is truly the heart and soul of ‘Soul Daddy’,” said Bobby Flay, distinguished restaurateur, investor and host of “America’s Next Great Restaurant.”

Woods said he wants to bring a Soul Daddy to Detroit, especially because he feels the spirit of the city behind him in his travels. Any advice from the man who said he wants his restaurant chain to be bigger than Chipote, bigger than McDonalds?

“Always stick to your guns. Never let anyone change your mind. If you have something in your heart, go after it,” Woods added. “Dig deep inside of you and accomplish.”

If you missed it (there was some little international event during the finale…not sure what happened there..), the last show will repeat on CNBC tonight at 10 p.m. EST. The finale episode is also available on NBC’s website.

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