Merenda Brown found her passion at 5 years old. And it wasn’t just cooking, but cooking for her family and for other people. Putting a smile on their faces.

“Making people happy just makes you feel great,” says Brown. “At the end of the day, if you can make one person happy by doing what you love, then it’s not been a bad day.”

Brown held this passion close to the vest until a trip to Boston in the summer of 2019 changed her life. Her cousin had a soul food restaurant there, and that visit inspired Brown to follow her own dreams.

“At the time I had a daycare,” she recalls. “I got back home on July 6, and I went out and found this building. And I just went from there. I closed my daycare on Aug. 31, and I started this place.”

“This place” was Merenda’s Soul Food Kitchen, specializing in home cooking — menu items like fried chicken and hamburger steak, chicken and dumplings and fall-off-the-bone ribs. Everything is made by Brown, she says, with fresh ingredients.

Located at 116 E. Main St. in Jonesboro Heights, Merenda’s arrived before the recent rush of new businesses on the busy thoroughfare. While she’s glad to see the arrival of her neighbor, Brick City Boba, and other new restaurants like Fonda Lupita and Valenti’s, she was dismayed by the lack of established eateries in the area when her restaurant opened in 2019.

“When I first got here, I was a little worried,” she says. “But you know, God is good. I really had to pray hard, because there was nobody here but me. It took maybe six to eight months before people realized there was a restaurant here. But then I started getting out there and advertising. And we started getting a lot of walk-ups and people started to discover us. Business is good now.”

So good, in fact, that Brown hopes to expand. A former karate studio sits empty in the same building, and that area would make for a great addition to her restaurant.

“There are some parking issues, but we have great neighbors [in Jonesboro], and for all of this to work, we have to work together as neighbors,” she says. “I’m excited to see this area grow.”

— by Billy Liggett

What to Know

Merenda’s Kitchen arrived on Main Street in Jonesboro Heights before Fonda Lupita and Valenti’s, and business is good in Merenda Brown’s second year. What to know: 

Location: At 116 E. Main St., Merenda’s is located next to Brick City Boba.

The Food: Fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, beef and pork ribs, collard greens, banana puddding … soul food.

Website: has the menu, which changes daily.

Reviews: Regulars of Merenda’s Kitchen swear by it. So do visitors. “Great food and great service,” wrote Joshua S. from Nashville on Yelp.