From lawyers to shipyard workers, the phrase “Let’s meet at The Annex” has been used in Pascagoula for most of a century.
In recent years, however, the little building at the entrance to the city — a venue known for hot, hearty, home-style meals — has been missing. It has closed on and off as it switched owners.
In October, a closed sign again went up on the door.
It had been Sylvia’a Annex for 42 years until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the storm, it has had at least five owner/managers, some of them former waitresses.
The last one, Susie Boykin, reopened two years ago, and told the Sun Herald: People have come here all their lives and brought their children, who bring their children. It’s a money-maker if the food is good and the hours are right.
It will reopen soon. This time, the change will be a major one.
It’s reopening as a Mexican restaurant — Juanita’s Kitchen — an answer to the prayers of Jesus Morales, the new co-owner.
Morales and his preacher, Ricardo Fuentes of the Fuenta de Vida church, will own the business, but not the building. They are renting.
Morales was a long-time chef in the dining room at Ingalls Shipyard, working for Aramark food service.
He is from Mexico and Fuentes is from El Salvador. (Their church is in east Pascagoula, one that Arlington Heights Baptist donated when it moved to Market Street to become Arlington Baptist.)
What is Morales’ favorite dish?
He likes tacos and will offer them in all forms — fish, chicken, beef, shrimp and steak.
But the menu will be quite extensive. Juanita’s Kitchen will have many forms of traditional Mexican food, but it also will offer po-boys, steaks, chicken fingers, hamburgers, fried pork chops and an American breakfast in full — from pancakes to omelets.
The people of Pascagoula want that, Morales said.
Fuentes owns the Ranchito Fuentes restaurant in Lucedale, but Juanita’s Kitchen will offer more American dishes.
The hours of operation may be the key. Morales plans to have it open a lot on weekdays: 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday, to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Saturdays it will open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday, it will be closed.
“So we can praise the Lord,” Morales said.
Morales has lived in the county for almost 20 years. His children went to Moss Point High School.
“All my life, I’ve been cooking,” he said, “since 1983.”
But a restaurant is something he has always wanted. He left his job at Ingalls for a better paying job so he could save up for a restaurant.
He and his wife have been praying for this, he said. “This was an answer from God.”
His pastor and partner, Fuentes, was eating at The Annex one day and told a waitress, “if they ever think of selling this restaurant, I might be interested.”
He was sort of joking, Morales said. Then he got a call from the owner, who said it was closing.
Fuentes called Morales to say, “Hey, Jesus, there’s a restaurant. Are you interested?”
That was just last month. Morales said he left the job and came to the table immediately.
“Before he called, I had two dreams about a restaurant,” Morales said. “They were small in both dreams. In my dream, I was working with my wife.”
After the dream, he thought, “that can’t be right,” because his wife has medical issues and can’t work, so he couldn’t see them ever working together at a job.
“Now I know it was an answer from God,” he said, because when he opens the restaurant, his wife can come be with him while he works.
They will be together at a job. She won’t be working, but she will be with him, he said, just as the dream showed.
New hours for The Annex as Juanita’s Kitchen
- 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Friday
- 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday
- Closed Sunday