Born and raised in Mint Hill, having gone from despair to success, he wants to give back to the community
Donnie Simmons is a man of ambition. Both a chef (once lauded by Guy Fieri) and an entrepreneur, he has opened a new restaurant in Monroe, and is in the process of opening three others of various cuisine. This new restaurant is called Crust and Jam. Crust refers to the specialty pizza they sell, and Jam refers to the fig jam (among other jam choices) that is put on the biscuits they serve. Why this unique combination? “I plan someday to take it to airports, so I wanted a restaurant that served breakfast, but would also take you into lunch and dinner.” He plans ahead.
The menu at Crust and Jam is at once creative and humorous. You could try Asian Persuasion; Fig, Sweat and Tears, or Vampire (plenty of garlic!) pizza. Another choice might be Southern Hospitality, a best seller, with country ham, goat cheese, basil, pickled red onions, and tomato jam as the base. A number of subs are offered in a tomato basil wrap, and don’t forget his award winning Carolina pimento cheese grits.
In the mood for biscuits? Get your taste buds ready for Main Street, a biscuit with tomato jam, sausage, and egg, or you could try Franklin Street with jalapeño bacon, fig jam, and spinach, just two of the eight specialty biscuit choices. Prefer to “build your own biscuit”? There are a few dozen choices to create your own masterpiece.
And don’t forget to save room for dessert. His blueberry white chocolate cheesecake has been a sellout.
“We only use fresh ingredients, and everything is made from scratch.” Donnie’s challenge is getting people to understand that this is not fast food. “Because we use fresh ingredients, it takes a little while to chop, put together, and bake. One woman customer complained that it took (gasp!)10 minutes to get a bruschetta, but unlike the big box restaurants, nothing is pre-made.” Returning customers agree it is worth the wait!
However, new restaurants are only part of this article. An even more important story is the one Donnie shares in front of crowds as large as hundreds. You see, in an earlier lifetime, Donnie was addicted to heroin. “In addition to heroin, opiates were prevalent in my life. “I was a drug addict,” he admits. The tattooed “sleeves” on his arm are there to hide the pain and scars from many years of addiction.
Then one day he quit. Cold turkey and on his own. He described the painful and hideous journey from addiction to being drug free, a journey most addicts can’t finish. But finish he did, and now tells his stories to audiences, sometimes of hundreds. He talks to teens, parents, police, and others about the consequences of heroin, explains how common it is, what signs to look for in someone who is using, and ultimately gives hope that an addict can actually go straight.
Because of this, Donnie believes in second chances. Some of his employees were drug addicts who are now straight. Some have been in prison, and some would not be considered elsewhere for employment. He gives them the opportunity to prove themselves as valuable workers. In this way, he is giving back to the community, and making his new (and successful) life truly have meaning.
Crust and Jam is located at 109 S. Main St., in Monroe.