Building on to her parent’s legacy as a community restaurant in San Francisco was the vision when Nikki Cooper took over the family’s first restaurant Two Jack’s Seafood in the Lower Haight neighborhood 10 years ago. The only child of the successful restaurateurs, Cooper renamed the location Two Jack’s Nik’s Place, adding her own culinary touches and nuances while still serving great comfort foods that have been enjoyed by several generations of San Franciscans as well as tourists.
Since the age of seven, Cooper can remember helping out in the restaurant taking orders and counting change. Next came the good stuff, learning how to make peach cobblers and the basics of frying fish and chicken. It seemed a culinary career would be the natural trajectory following high school and college, but Cooper had other plans that did not involve food.
Taking Over a Family Legacy
“I went to the French American International School and got my degree from UC Davis in French, so I actually wanted to be a translator for the International Relations. After graduating from Davis, I started working for an engineering firm translating documents from English to French and just realized that Corporate America wasn’t for me,” says the restaurateur and mother of two. The decision to leave a corporate career was made without hesitation when Cooper and her husband were expecting their first child. Knowing that she didn’t want to work for anyone, she welcomed the opportunity to take over the family’s Haight Street location when approached by her dad.
Now home to residents of diverse tastes and lifestyles and a known hot spot for tourists, the Lower Haight is showing off a new persona these days compared to the one that was once plagued with drugs and prostitution back in the 70s, 80s and some of the 90s. Opening in 1977, Two Jack’s Nik’s Place was a staple in the community then and still is now as one of a handful, if that, of Black-owned restaurants in the neighborhood. The history of the restaurant, as well as the neighborhood, is beautifully captured through the artwork on the walls both inside and outside.
In addition to changing the name, Cooper also changed the menu from what was mainly just fish, chicken and burgers and added some soulful side dishes such as collard greens, mac and cheese, string beans, candied yams, and jambalaya to create a well-rounded comfort food experience.
More Than a Good Meal
With so many variables in life tugging and pulling families in different directions, Cooper sees the restaurant as more than a place to grab a good meal. Her Throw Back Thursdays roll the menu prices back for one a day to 1977 from 4-7 pm with the goal of making it a family dinner night that is affordable and most importantly allows families to sit down and reconnect. The restaurant also hosts an Open Mic/Swag Slam on the last Saturday of each month from 5 – 8 pm that is very popular.
“My philosophy in food is that it is not supposed to separate people and I think we have gotten lost in that there are a lot of competition shows and I am definitely not knocking people who want to see that but I do believe there is another aspect of cooking that brings families together,” says Cooper.
When times get tough, as it is sure to happen when running a business of any type, Cooper falls back on family and just being grateful for she has and everything that her ten years of experience has taught her.
With a passion for creating and sharing good food, Cooper has hosted cooking demonstrations as well as partnered with Mode to shoot two recipe videos. Future plans include a cooking show that is family-focused and a franchise.
Now a seasoned restaurateur, Cooper’s recipe for longevity includes gratitude, having a lot of patience and watching one’s spending if you are in this business for the long run. “As long as there is authenticity and passion, no matter how hard the road is you can keep going. It gets really, really hard. Learn how to respect the process.”
Two Jack’s Nik’s Place is located at 401 Haight Street in San Francisco and opened Monday – Saturday. You can go online and visit the restaurant at www.twojacksniksplace.com and get social on Facebook and Twitter.
Order ahead of time by ordering online or through the restaurant’s mobile app.