Jonea Pledger: The Wing Connoisseur

Kansas City culinary artist serves up world-class wings.

When we think of quality food, our imaginations may immediately go to what our senses perceive. How does it look? How does it taste? What does it smell like? Those questions are can be easily answered when we get that plate in front of us. But when it comes to the success of the dish, one might think of one more thing: Who do we share it with? How a dish connects us to those around us speaks volumes. A sense of comfort and vulnerability open up when the nourishment that we have for ourselves, inspires us to share that with others. Here in Kansas City, Jonea Pledger serves us that and much more.

Spending most of her childhood in Kansas City, Kansas, Pledger opens our interview by discussing some of her most memorable days at her grandmother’s home on Quindaro Blvd. She thought back to how often she would watch her cook and the luscious garden full of flowers, vegetables and herbs she tended to in her yard. It was one that was not only impressive to the family but to the community. As she grew up, she looked to her father’s example of cooking in the home, who Pledger states, “would have chosen the grill over the stove any day”. Those skills for grilling were passed down and perfected after years of practice for her.

What’s been the most challenging dish you’ve attempted recently? “I made some scalloped potatoes. Sonia said they were really, really good“. -Jonea Pledger

Pledger was raised as the second oldest woman in the family, at which she states that she fell into the responsibility to cook at an early age.  Her and two of her sisters, who were close in age, began learning together. Their time in the kitchen welcomed family memories and recipes to be shared as the years progressed. Although, a culture of food appreciation was evident at home, she found it hard to gain the appropriate support or preparation from the secondary schools she attended in Wyandotte County. She even went as far as to say that she felt there would have been more opportunities to learn more about cooking, had she transferred to a school in North KC. “I just consider what the next generation might struggle with. They won’t even know what to cook or how to prep large meals”, she adds.

After learning of Pledger’s young experiences with responsible cooking within the household, I asked what eventually convinced her to see a special interest in culinary arts. The short answer she gave was, “I met a foodie”. That foodie is her wife of nearly four years. There was a beautiful love story unfolding, yet a new passion had been awakened. She expressed how much her wife loved food and that she knew it was (and is) the way to her heart. It is because of this understanding that she wanted to get better and became more thoughtful to the approaches she took to preparing and serving food. Pledger’s wife, Sonia, chimed in with her opinion on her cooking. She describes her food as flavorful, intentional and SAWWWCY. “It’s food as it should be. You can tell the intention behind it-for it to taste good. It’s as if she wanted me to taste this”.

What’s a dish that is always expected of you at a family function?Depends on the occasion but I’m usually in charge of the grill, pie, or potato salad“. -Jonea Pledger

From there, Pledger decided to dive into her new-found passion with YouTube tutorials to further expand her creative palette in the food sense. In 2020, the decision was made to open her business. Despite adjusting to the early days of the pandemic, the support for her business, J’Nics Chicken, has been an outpour from all sides.  She mentions how much her brother impacted her business choice. She states that they were able to inspire each other and witness the progression of their skills, as he is also a chef who travels. He’s been at it a while longer, Pledger emphasizes.  There’s support from other family members as well. “I have been heavily supported. Between my nieces and nephews helping with packaging and filling ranch cups or my sisters and my wife helping me with deliveries”. I listened closely as the conversation continued to build, noticing the appreciation Pledger has for everyone involved. From family lending a hand with busy orders to the regulars who have kept her going with their feedback and loyalty.

Pledger is known for well-seasoned grilled chicken wings. When asked about why she chose the finger-licking poultry dish, she responds, “My people like chicken. I LOVE chicken wings”! She tells me that it’s one of her go-to dishes to order at any new restaurant. If wings are on the menu, she’s ordering them. Due to this very “hands-on” research approach that Pledger does, she recognizes that her grilled wings set her apart from her competition. However, not unlike her competitors, she had to deal with a lot of changes. Thinking of the workload during this time, she stresses what she learned about herself. “I learned that I could not work from home. I didn’t want to keep sitting down anymore”. While she was sick of sitting most of her day at work, there were changes at home that would soon be keeping her on her toes. In 2021, the Pledgers welcomed their first son, Jaysen. Having a two-year old has made scheduling tough at times, she states. However, there was such pride in how she spoke of how much he enjoys her cooking and watching her in the kitchen.

J’Nics Birria Tacos (Made exclusively for the Decadent Arts Event)

So far this year, she has remained focus on delivering great service and setting new goals for the business. Her signature wings were on party tables all over Kansas City, being enjoyed by Chiefs and Eagles fans during the Superbowl. Moving forward, she wants to be more consistent with her schedule and get involved in larger pop-up events in the city. Jonea Pledger leaves a searing taste of deliciousness in every bite and that is much credit to her persistence and strong work ethic. Reflecting on this interview, I say the following to all forms of artistry: Make what you love, for who you love.

Join us March 25th, when we’ll be finally getting a taste of what Jonea Pledger is cooking up:

Appetizer-Birria Tacos (exclusive for our event, not available for purchase)

Main Course– J’Nic’s Signature Wings

Get Tickets Here: Tickets no longer on sale.

Michelle L. Hill

Embodies the peace adventure yields, is home in the beyond, and establishes foundations needed for others to experience true wonder for themselves. Creator of The Black Sunflower.

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