Mama TJ is Serving Up Love
May 2021 Issue
Story and Photography by
Jacie Elizabeth Millen
Sassy, determined, humorous, and one hell of a woman, Ms. Tawanda Jackson is nothing short of fabulous. With just about everyone who encounters her, she is “Mama.” Known as Ms. TJ, Mama TJ and just plain Mama, she lives up to her loving nicknames, going above and beyond to make sure she takes care of just about everyone and everything she can. With a true mama bear spirit, Ms.TJ is serving up love, support and advice to anyone who needs it.
Hailing from Fuquay-Varina, NC, in 1975, TJ followed her then boyfriend to Beaufort, SC, where he was stationed as a Marine. By 1977, she was on to bigger and better things and relocated herself to Hilton Head Island, where she found her lifelong happy place. Her first job on the Island was helping to open a Huddle House, which was the first 24-hour restaurant ever on Hilton Head. Working her way up from dishwasher to manager, Mama TJ gave Huddle House 28 years of hard work, dedication, laughs and love.
“That was my favorite job, and I was one badass short-order cook. I would see people walking in, and their order would already be ready before they stepped in the building. My favorite shift to work was the 3rd shift—10 p.m. to 6 a.m. All my regulars, the food and beverage crew, would pile in, and they would always be the most folksy people, just real good kinda people,” Mama TJ said.
After Huddle House, Ms. TJ worked at the iconic Jump & Phil’s for 15 years. When they closed, she relocated to her current kitchen at Beach Break, a little local bar and restaurant located on Palmetto Bay Road. There she is head chef and runs the kitchen most days of the week. Famous for her scrumptious, soul-filled fried chicken, pork chops, savory BBQ and magic collard greens, daily regulars never miss Mama’s special of the day. She makes putting in the extra work look effortless, never missing a beat in her kitchen. Food is Mama’s love language and she speaks to everyone.
Beyond the kitchen is family—related or not. Family makes Mama TJ’s world go around. Coming from parents, grandparents and great grandparents who all had immense love for family, Tawanda grew up with her heart being filled to the brim with the values of compassion, affection and appreciation. “I am the fourth generation of strong women in my family. We really take care of each other,” she said.
In addition to her blood family, Ms. TJ has found some “children” she loves as her own. Lawrence, Joy, Toby and Toni are her four—the kids she has taken under her loving and protective wing. She says her bosses at Beach Break are like family, too. “At Beach Break we are all just one big family full of real, down-to-earth people. I don’t play around with fake people. I’m straight and to the point, and I just don’t get along with fake people,” Mama said. “I moved here all on my own all those years ago, I am so lucky to have found my people here. They’re my family away from my family,” Mama smiled.
Toni, a bartender at Beach Break and one of Mama’s babies, couldn’t say enough good things about Mama. “Her personality is so big, people just gravitate to her. She’s so warm and loving, but will tell you every word you need to hear. But that’s what good parents are supposed to be like. She just doesn’t stop caring, and it’s just awesome to have a woman like that in your corner,” Toni said.
Mama says Hilton Head Island has been good to her. She has found her voice and herself living here for the past 48 years. Always wild and free, her spirit has never broken. She has grown so much over the years, including in her faith. Growing up in a household that went to church, she still thanks God daily. “I get my praise on in the kitchen, at home, just about anywhere. I don’t need to go to church to know I wouldn’t be where I am today without God. I am doing my thing, and I don’t judge others for doing theirs, what ever they do. I think the way you live your life speaks for you,” Mama said.
A true staple to this island, Mama is living her truth and being herself, which brings a breath of fresh air to everyone she encounters. The meaning of her name, Tawanda, is blue skies, a perfect fit! She can make a stormy situation turn to blue skies with her strong personality, her wit and her ability to light up every room she walks into. If you haven’t met Ms. TJ, I suggest you head over to Beach Break and give your compliments to the chef.
A Few of Her Favorite Things: Butterflies, anything purple, her mama’s chicken and dumplings and Lifetime TV on her days off.
A True Local: “I can remember when the bridge going to Bluffton was still a drawbridge. I have seen this island change so much.”
Ms. Bachelorette: Mama TJ is ready to mingle. “Girl, I am free, single and available. Every man better pick up this month’s issue,” she laughed!