Sarah Martin Willis learned how to cook when she was 4.
“Cooking has always been my passion,” she said.
Mrs. Willis, 29, grew up in the kitchen cooking with her mother, Dana Martin, and her grandmother, Judy Jones.
“She was old school — breakfast, lunch and dinner — she used to cook it all,” Mrs. Willis said of Mrs. Jones.
Mrs. Willis started working in the food industry when she was 16. After being a stay-at-home mom for a few years, she is back in the kitchen, cooking up Cajun favorites at the family’s restaurant, Bud Jones Bayou Cajun Food on East Erwin Street.
Mrs. Willis has been married to Jason Willis for one year and has two children, Ryan Sherwood, 7, and Jackson Sherwood, 6.
She said the family has wanted to open a restaurant for a long time.
In November, they started serving up Cajun food out of a concession trailer parked in front of Bud Jones Garage, owned by her grandmother, Mrs. Jones, and operated by her mother, Mrs. Martin, and father, Charlie Martin Jr.
She said they had to get monthly temporary use permits to run the concession trailer and business became so good they decided to turn it into a permanent eatery.
The bigger kitchen has allowed them to grow the menu and they already have plans to expand the business.
Now, the small shop offers only a handful of seats at counters, but they have already poured concrete to add on to the building and she expects the project to be completed in about a month. The new addition will be a separate sit-down restaurant with 20 to 30 tables while the existing side of the building will be for pick-up orders.
Mrs. Willis cooks up fried shrimp, oyster and blackened catfish po-boy sandwiches, dirty rice, gumbo, blackened or fried catfish, Gulf boiled shrimp and crawfish, when it’s in season. They also offer specials like crawfish spaghetti.
All of the recipes for the restaurant came from her grandfather, Charlie “Lucky” Martin, who served in the U.S. Navy and picked up recipes from his travels.
Mrs. Willis’ father and Martin’s son, Charlie Martin Jr., said his father served two terms in the Navy, before, during and after Pearl Harbor. He worked as a cook, then a gunner on top of the ship and back to a cook.
Martin recalls his father saying there was no job for a gunner on the streets so he decided to become a chef. He worked as the head chef for Hotel Tulsa, he added. Martin said the family has found his father’s cookbooks, filled with scraps of papers with hand-written recipes on them.
CAJUN MEANS FLAVOR
She said oysters have been the most popular dish on the menu, with fried shrimp coming in second.
Mrs. Willis said they will probably add more items to the menu once the restaurant expansion is complete. She said she will also probably add a couple more employees once it grows, but right now it is just her and one other woman working.
Mrs. Willis will also deliver, depending on how much is ordered and how far it is.
Although they don’t open until 11 a.m., Mrs. Willis said she is often in the kitchen at 7:30 a.m. cooking breakfast for the men who work at the family garage next door.