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From a young age, Monique Williams embraced the creativity of cooking. Inspired and encouraged by her grandmother, she experimented with flavors, using fresh ingredients from her family’s garden. At age 12, she wrote her first business plan for opening her own restaurant. Although her working life originally took a very different trajectory, the allure of cooking and baking never left her. Today the woman known affectionately as “Chef Mo” has opened her most recent venture, Biscuits & Jams, a boutique breakfast and lunch spot in Bartlett. Join us as we find out more about this energetic and engaging FACE of Memphis, Chef Monique Williams!

Monique posing with hand on hip - Image: TaKeisha Woodson

Welcome Chef Monique Williams of Biscuits & Jams, our newest FACE of Memphis! Image: TaKeisha Woodson

Tell us a bit about your background and your “other” career.

I’m from Memphis; I went to Central High School and graduated from Christian Brothers University. I worked for 24 years for numerous pharmaceutical companies and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a clinical research associate, project manager, and clinical team lead. I recently retired in August of 2021.

There is quite a gap between clinical research and restaurant entrepreneurship. How did you bridge that divide?

Cooking has always been my passion. My grandmother would let me cook whatever I wanted in her kitchen. She would taste it and tell me to add a pinch of this or that. She was my teacher and my inspiration, and I have so many wonderful childhood memories around food. When I traveled for work, I would make cookies and cakes when I got home — it was my outlet. I posted my creations on Facebook, and people would ask if I could make things for them. I did, at first from home, and then decided to open a bakery called Pat-A-Cake Bake Shop.

RELATED: The Memphis Tasting Box That Has All Your Favorites

What other restaurants have you owned?

I closed Pat-A-Cake when my daughter went to college. I realized it would be just me working, and I wanted to be free to truly experience an empty nest. But after a couple of years, I was ready to try something else. I opened Laura’s Kitchen, named after my grandmother, with a Southern-cooking-style menu that did really well. Then I decided I didn’t want to keep paying for a brick-and-mortar, so I bought a food truck.

I had a partner with the food truck, and we eventually decided that we wanted room to do more. He found a great space in Whitehaven, which became Trap Fusion. “Trap” stands for “Take Risks and Prosper.” We serve Cajun, Creole, and healthier-style foods like vegan. It’s still going strong – we have locations in Whitehaven and Cordova.

Just to confirm: You opened and worked at these restaurants at the same time you had a career in the medical field?

Yes! I was working full-time and I was hands-on with my restaurants. I really had two full-time jobs.

What led you to the creation of Biscuits & Jams?

I love lunch and breakfast. After church, I love going to brunch. As a Bartlett resident, I noticed we didn’t have boutique restaurants like you find in Downtown and Midtown for breakfast and brunch. I knew this community would be the perfect place for what I had in mind.

Chef Monique Williams of Biscuits and Jams - Image: TaKeisha Woodson

“It depends on how I’m feeling,” Monique says of cooking at home for family and friends. “I get a little artsy with it. It’s almost like when a painter has a new, blank canvas and they let it speak to them. I’m like that when it comes to cooking for friends and family. They are all used to it!” Image: TaKeisha Woodson

Is Biscuits & Jams what you envisioned originally?

This is it, absolutely. Before COVID hit, I wrote the business plan for Biscuits & Jams. When the lockdown began, I hit pause but still looked for a location. I came upon our current space and decided that if it was still available in a month or two, I would consider it. Two months later, it was still available.

It was horrible looking – brown and kind of beat up – but I saw the potential. I wanted cheerful, light, clean, and welcoming, and that’s what I got.

For the menu, once again, I credit my grandmother for inspiration. She used to make delicious homemade biscuits all the time, along with preserves and jams.

Tell us more about the menu.

Honestly, it was created with love. We put our own little spin on dishes and our flavors are unique to us; for example, our shrimp and grits. I eat in a lot of places locally, and I haven’t seen anything like it. You get just a little tinge of spice, but not too spicy. It’s Creole-style with a thicker roux, very smooth on the palate. We let it sit, and the more it sits, the more those flavors pop. We did that intentionally.

I traveled a lot for work, and when I revisited a city, I would go back to certain restaurants where I knew I’d find a certain dish or taste. I would crave that one flavor that I associated with that one place. I wanted to develop dishes that brought that same response from people. I want them to be at home and think, Man, I want to go back to Biscuits and Jams! That dish I had was so good!

Along with our amazing dishes, we’ve got some amazing cocktails. When I make my jams and preserves, I’ll jar some of the syrup to use in our cocktails. The Bellini uses the syrup from my Autumn Peach preserves. It gives it a nice little cinnamon taste – plus it’s ours! You won’t get that particular flavor anywhere else.

Chef Monique of Biscuits and Jams posing in street - Image: TaKeisha Woodson

“I do like trying new flavors and dishes, too,” Monique shares. “I taught myself how to prepare Cajun, Creole, Italian, and Asian cuisines. I’d pick a holiday and say, ‘This year, we are going to have a Cajun Christmas.’ I’d spend months learning how to make the dishes. I get bored with the same things!” Image: TaKeisha Woodson

RELATED: 5 New Memphis Restaurants to Check Out (Updated December 2021)

Where can we find you when you are not working?

Lately, I love just being at home, watching a good movie, and eating popcorn. Not the kind you buy in a bag, though. I use fresh popcorn, cooked in a skillet. I make my own special seasoning to go with it.

I also love to spend time with friends and family. One thing COVID showed us? Life is short. We need to spend it with the people that matter.

What do you do in the morning to get the day off on the right foot?

I meditate, read a little Scripture, and have a conversation with God about the day. I try to center myself because you never know what organized chaos the day will bring. Sometimes it’s not organized, it’s just chaos. I want to face every day with a smile on my face, and in order to do that, I take just that bit of time to center myself.

What’s your best piece of advice?

Trust your gifts. We all come into this life with gifts, and I believe they will open doors for you.

Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?

Personal time, freedom to be creative, and a good glass of red wine.

Thank you, Monique! Photography by TaKeisha Woodson of Circle of Life Photography.

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