Moni's Soulfood Fiesta brings fusion of flavors to downtown Elgin
Friday was a very memorable birthday for Monique Howery of Elgin.
After myriad delays, some small, some catastrophic, Howery celebrated her 38th birthday and held the grand opening of her new Moni's Soulfood Fiesta in downtown Elgin.
Howery had decided to open the Elgin location in February. She said she pushed the pause button due to COVID-19, but restarted plans in early summer as things settled down. Then, in June, her 19-year-old daughter Sabrina died in her sleep of natural causes.
"She was my right hand, she always helped me," Howery said. Many friends and family assumed she'd put the restaurant on hold for a while, but Howery stayed the course. "I could hear her voice telling me to complete what I started."
Pictures of Sabrina adorn the restaurant walls, and Howery wears a picture of her daughter on a pendant around her neck. "She's right here by my heart, and it's like she's still my right hand here."
Moving forward with the restaurant after the devastating loss is in keeping with Howery's feelings about food.
"Whether it's a happy moment or a sad moment, we remember the food and I feel food feeds the soul," she said, adding that's why she put the words soul and food together as one when naming her restaurant.
Howery returned to Elgin after closing a Moni's location in DeKalb, where she said the seasonal nature of the student population made the restaurant business difficult.
She said she had worked at a nearby J.P. Morgan Chase location about 10 years ago and still attended church locally. She said she decided to open a restaurant in Elgin at the urging of her church family, who would often drive to DeKalb for her food.
Howery said she also heard from Elgin City Council member Tish Powell who, after Howery catered a Kwanzaa event for the city last year, told her 'I need you to come on home.'
Howery knew Elgin was the right fit for her fusion of soul food along with flavors of Mexico and Jamaica. "Elgineers are out and they love to eat and love to try different things," she said.
The long line that spanned the length of the restaurant just after she opened proved her point.
"It's delicious," said Brittney Walker of St. Charles, who was having jerk chicken and jerk steak tacos, along with sides of sweet potatoes and french fries.
She said she had tried Howery's food at a catered event and spoke to her then about having a local spot.
"I couldn't wait for the restaurant to be established," Walker said. "I've been looking forward to this exact day."