By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer
Whether it be by eating their chocolate chip cookies at “milk and cookies night” at Line Camp or stopping by on Saturday morning before a football game, many Baylor students have made it to local restaurant Lula Jane’s at least once during their four years.
Lula Jane’s opened up in East Waco on Halloween 2012 and has quickly grown to be a favorite spot in the Baylor and Waco communities. It was even listed as No. 71 on Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. 2019,” yet owner Nancy Grayson said that the honor wasn’t something Lula Jane’s was aware of until after the list came out.
“We didn’t know the list existed before or even after — we got a Facebook notification from a friend about it, which is how we found out. Yelp never contacted us, so it’s not something you actively work towards,” Grayson said. “We saw it, thought it was nice and went back to baking, because that’s not why we do things. We serve up excellence and whatever falls our way is okay.”
Grayson, who has been baking since she was a child, comes up with Lula Jane’s breakfast and bakery recipes herself and said that she constantly strives to improve, even if that means making mistakes along the way.
“I use a lot of chemistry when I bake — when I amend a recipe I think about pH levels and other factors that truly involve chemistry, which is a huge component. I’ve read a lot, practiced a lot and made lots of mistakes, which are great. I believe in making mistakes, lots of them,” Grayson said. “When we get comments from customers about something they felt wasn’t quite right, we’ll go back to the drawing board, even if we’ve been serving it for six years, and think about how we can do things better. We’re a service industry, so we listen and are responsive and we care. I read and answer every review myself because I want to know what people think so we can be better than we are. Good is never good enough — you should always strive to be excellent and excellent is hard to reach.”
All ingredients and recipes made at Lula Jane’s are completely from scratch, which Grayson said makes Lula Jane’s the first garden to table and farm to table restaurant in McLennan County. Grayson is also working on opening a grocery store in East Waco, a project that is four years in the making, to offer fresh food options to the community.
“Everything we make here is fresh and from scratch — we don’t cook any frozen food, which is rare in Waco,” Grayson said. “We’ve been consistent about our approach to food with healthy options that are also delicious and fill you up. Showing people that eating that way can be done and make people happy has been good. The grocery store we’re doing up the street is an extension of this in looking at fresh food and making it available to the neighborhood, so they can continue eating in a way that serves them well. We’re also training people in East Waco to garden so we can buy their fresh foods from them. It’s a self-sustaining approach to community and good food.”
Grayson said a primary mission of Lula Jane’s is to feed people, particularly the people of East Waco, and all profits made from the restaurant are invested back into the local community. She has also opened a public charter school in East Waco, and with her husband, she has worked to build and develop homes in the area.
“My goal was to help foster community and economic development for this neighborhood. I’ve been in the neighborhood since 1998 with the opening of the school,” Grayson said. “Since the opening of the school to today, I take no money home. I’ve worked 70 hours a week for 20 years, and I take no money home because for us it’s about fostering community in a neighborhood that we think is fantastic. We love Waco which is why we give back — Waco has been good to us, so we need to be good to Waco.”
Ida Jamshidi, a frequent visitor of Lula Jane’s, appreciates the work that Grayson has done to give back to the community and encourages growth in the local neighborhood.
“I know that revitalizing East Waco was a part of Nancy Grayson’s vision when she opened Lula Jane’s more than six years ago,” Jamshidi said. “She’s been intentional about welcoming everyone who walks through the doors of the bakery and actively searches for opportunities to give back to the community. I truly believe that this philosophy has set the tone for other businesses who have been drawn to the area.”
One of Jamshidi’s favorite aspects about Lula Jane’s is the community the restaurant encourages through friendly staff and a welcoming atmosphere.
“Lula Jane’s is all about bringing people together around great food,” Jamshidi said. “Everyone is valued there regardless of your background. You could be a first-time visitor from out-of-state or someone like me who comes in several times a week – the staff will always make you feel like you’re home.”
Grayson reflects this vision of acceptance and community through hiring dedicated staff and making a conscious goal to welcome all people that step inside the restaurant.
“It’s important to us that whoever works here plugs into our community at Lula Jane’s. Our environment and welcoming approach is that everyone who walks through our doors has value, and they need to know that to work here,” Grayson said. “Our goal is gather people together — we don’t have a huge interior space, so you often have to sit with and get to know other people. This strengthens the sense of community within Lula Jane’s and hopefully within the greater community. The people keep us happy to be here — if we can add joy to people’s days through food or connections, we’ve done our job.”