TNT Diner

This new food truck mashes up Philly sandwiches and soul food. Here’s where to find it

A Soul Burger served last week at CJ’s Phillys.
A Soul Burger served last week at CJ’s Phillys.

Chantel Jackson’s new food truck merges her love of Philly sandwiches and soul food.

Jackson opened a mobile restaurant bearing her initials last week at Tacoma Community College.

CJ’s Phillys will serve on campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Find the truck between Buildings 7 and 11.

Back up five years for how she wound up cobbling together a living making sandwiches.

“After I lost my job, I told myself, I would never let nobody have control over my life and have no income,” said Jackson.

She started making Philly sandwiches and selling them to friends.

A friend told her two important things: Pursue professional training and get the business licensed.

She ended up doing both.

Culinary school was out of her financial reach. She found a food truck-incubator program in King County called Ventures.

That program allows its students to book the organization’s food truck to launch food businesses.

She used that truck to serve at the Mobile Food Fest at Sprinker Recreation Center among others.

In search of even more training, her next stop was the food truck-training program at Bates Technical College. There, she learned hands-on about building and licensing a food truck. The students in that inaugural class followed along as the school launched its own truck.

All the while, she was stockpiling money through her food truck and private catering events with the intention of buying her own truck.

Luck struck when she saw a local truck for sale, but she didn’t have enough to buy it. The owner sold it to her anyway for the money she had.

Turning it into a business was a struggle. The day she bought the truck, she wound up stranded on the side of the road. Her grandpa rescued her with his truck, which she wound up buying. That truck now tows her food trailer to the TCC campus.

Southern pnilly 2
The Southern Philly at CJ’s Phillys was made with steak and pulled pork. Sue Kidd

Here’s a first-bite look at the newly opened restaurant. It’s this paper’s policy to skip criticism of food and service in a new restaurant’s first month.

Menu: Changes every week, but usually some kind of Philly sandwich, another sandwich or burger, a side, and some kind of soup. All the food has a southern, soul-food spin.

Last week’s menu: What’s better than a steak Philly? One that’s piled with a second kind of meat. Her Southern Philly sandwich last week was built on a small and sturdy roll — double the size of a slider, but smaller than a typical Philly roll — with a base of steak and a second layer of pulled pork, with a topper of tangy, peach salsa and crunchy cabbage dressed with a honey-cilantro dressing ($5).

Her Soul Burger came with a burger patty fortified with sausage (Jackson likes that pork-and-beef pairing a lot) and was finished with slow-cooked greens and a cheesy layer of mac and cheese ($5).

I hope she keeps seafood gumbo on her menu. She starts the dish with a roux and builds the flavor with okra and the holy trinity (onions, celery, bell peppers), the usual gumbo spices and sliced sausage, chicken-on-the-bone and shrimp ($4 small/$8 large). She serves the tasty soup over a scoop of rice.

Current menu: This week is a sirloin steak Philly with fried shrimp served po’boy style ($5), crab-cake sliders ($5), Cajun fries with special sauce ($3), shrimp and grits ($6) and her excellent seafood gumbo ($4/$8).

Seating: Picnic tables nearby.

But what if I’m not a student? You can still dine on campus. Park in Lot F where “visitor” parking is marked. It’s a short walk to building 7.

CJ’s Phillys

Where: Tacoma Community College, 6501 S. 19th St., Tacoma.

Park: In lot F in the visitor’s spaces, then walk to building 7.

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.

Info: 253-205-9660;