Ebony, Jet model Juanita Meyer Gibson, an inspiration for BJ’s Market dishes, dead at 84

The Hyde Park entrepreneur’s Southern cooking inspired much of the menu at her sons’ Chicago restaurant BJ’s Market & Bakery. See her recipe below for mac n’ cheese.

SHARE Ebony, Jet model Juanita Meyer Gibson, an inspiration for BJ’s Market dishes, dead at 84
Juanita M. Gibson was an entrepreneur and inspiration for many of the southern entrees and desserts at BJ’s Market & Bakery.

Juanita M. Gibson was an entrepreneur and inspiration for many of the southern entrees and desserts at BJ’s Market & Bakery.

Provided

Juanita M. Gibson kept her kitchen stocked with White Lily flour and Land O’Lakes butter to make her peach cobbler and an infinite variety of cakes: caramel, pineapple-coconut, pound cake, strawberry shortcake and German chocolate cake.

“She loved to cook. She loved to entertain,” said her son John Meyer, founder of the Chicago restaurant BJ’s Market & Bakery. “Everything was fresh.”

Mrs. Gibson’s Southern cooking inspired much of the menu at BJ’s, including greens, dressing, mac n’ cheese and mustard-fried catfish, the restaurant’s signature and a popular dish at the Taste of Chicago.

“The holidays were such an event,” said her daughter Dr. Kim Meyer. “She just took so much pleasure from the cooking and the entertaining and the joy and the love.”

And Mrs. Gibson always made enough to send everyone home with leftovers.

The Hyde Park resident died of cancer last month at the University of Chicago Medical Center, her children said.She was 84.

Juanita M. Gibson, then 22, on the cover of Jet in 1957.

Juanita M. Gibson, then 22, on the cover of Jet in 1957.

Provided

Mrs. Gibson was a professional model, appearing in Ebony and Jet and in cosmetic ads. In 1957, she was on the cover of Jet.

Juanita M. Gibson’s Macaroni and Cheese

Juanita M. Gibson’s Macaroni and Cheese

This was one of Juanita Gibson’s signature dishes.

3 cups macaroni, cooked and drained

2 cups milk

3 large eggs

¾ tsp. salt

½ tsp. white pepper

1 stick butter

2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack

2 cups shredded Pepper Jack

1 cup shredded Colby cheese

1 sleeve crushed snack crackers

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together milk, eggs, salt, butter and pepper. Cook, stirring until thickened. Add remaining cheeses (except pepper jack). Stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat; mix in macaroni. Transfer ½ of mixture to oiled 2.5-quart baking dish, and sprinkle with Pepper Jack cheese. Add remaining mixture and top with crackers. Bake for ½ hour or until bubbly.

She also taught business classes at the City Colleges of Chicago and worked as a human resources manager for Ingersoll products, a division of Borg-Warner. And she opened a senior care home, South Shore Retreat, and the gift shop at St. Bernard Hospital.

Her son John, then a student at Washburne Trade School, was the chef for the home’s popular Sunday buffets. They became a tradition for residents and their families.

“Nita” was only 10 when she came north in the Great Migration. Her parents sent her to live with Chicago relatives because there was no secondary education for African American children in their Tennessee town, according to her daughter.

She was born Juanita McCloud in Tiptonville, Tennessee, and grew up in Union City, Tennessee. Her mother Erma was a homemaker. Her father John was a school principal. The McClouds tended a flourishing garden where they grew mouthwatering corn and tomatoes. Dinner might be fish from the creek or chickens they raised.

Though Mrs. Gibson could whip up tasty fried chicken, she never ate it because, when she was growing up, “She said chickens were her friends,” her son said.

In Chicago, she thrived at Hyde Park High School and Roosevelt University.

In 1958, she married Henry Meyer Jr. They later divorced. Her second marriage, to Robert Gibson, also ended in divorce.

She was active with The Flairs, a social club of African American women that organized luncheons and glamorous evenings out.

“Some of the gowns that my mother had were just unbelievable,” said her son Hank Meyer, a partner in BJ’s.

“We were motivated by my mother to go out in the world and do things we weren’t supposed to do,” Hank Meyer said.

He said she ignored invisible color lines, bringing her kids to fine dining destinations in “white” downtown.

“We didn’t see any other people who looked like us,” he said. “ My mother had a tendency to do that — take us places, expose us to things.”

She showed her children how to hold a knife and fork and to reach for cutlery from the outside in as courses progressed. “Put your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down,” she’d say.

“My mom made me feel like I could go anywhere, do anything,” Hank Meyer said.

Juanita M. Gibson (seated) with daughter Dr. Kim Meyer and sons John (left) and Hank (right).

Juanita M. Gibson (seated) with daughter Dr. Kim Meyer and sons John (left) and Hank (right).

Provided

Her daughter is a psychiatrist. John Meyer became the first African American chair of the Illinois Restaurant Association. Hank Meyer is the chair of the Coalition of African American Leaders.

Mrs. Gibson was an adept problem-solver who could do online research as fast as those much younger, her daughter said: “Everyone would call her for advice” on work and personal challenges. “She was so strong and so smart.”

Mrs. Gibson is also survived by four grandchildren, her brother Kinnie McCloud, her aunt Grace Pryor and her former husband Robert Gibson. A future memorial service is planned.

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