One day while catching up with restaurateur, Charles Morgan, he told me about Jennifer Knight and the vegan restaurant she owns and operates in Pensacola called the End of the Line Cafe. ‘She’s got a great thing going on and you should do a story for Scenic 98 Coastal.”
He went on to say that she was terrific, but that I should wait to reach out to her because she was renovating the cafe. I trusted Charles’ instincts and made a note. A few weeks ago, I reached out to Jennifer and we scheduled a visit at the restaurant.
End of the Line Cafe is near Downtown Pensacola at 601 Wright Street across from the railroad tracks, so I assumed that's where the name came from. The restaurant wasn’t open yet, but when I walked in, several folks were busily preparing for the day. Jennifer walked out of the kitchen, introduced herself, and we sat down at one of the dining tables to chat.
It turns out that Jennifer had been a bartender at Charles’ restaurant, Dharma Blue in Pensacola many years ago. This is but one of Charles's many fine restaurant offerings throughout the Southeast. He stays in touch and keeps up with everybody, especially those who are working hard and are successful. This fit Jennifer to a tee.
Jennifer is an energetic, personable woman who was immediately excited to discuss End of the Line Cafe and veganism. Renovations are actually taking place next door in a building she recently purchased. “We were out of room,” she tells me. The place is small and cozy with art on the walls and a friendly atmosphere.
“I had started looking for another location before the pandemic hit. Fortunately, the building next door came up for sale. I had been renting this space all these years and I had the first right of refusal, so I bought both buildings at the same time.”
The cafe has continued operating while the building next door is being completely renovated with a new, larger kitchen, full bar, and more dining areas. When complete, the existing space will undergo renovation. Business must be good, I thought.
Jennifer was born in San Diego and lived in Des Moines, Iowa until her family moved to Pensacola when she was in the 3rd Grade. In the early 90s, after high school, she moved to San Francisco because she wanted to travel. For a year she visited Europe, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Ireland.
“It was challenging living in San Francisco, keeping an apartment because you really couldn’t afford to pay rent and travel at the same time.” She decided to return to Pensacola and for five years was the bartender at Dharma Blue, which had just opened. She and three partners decided to take over a coffee shop called Van Gogh, which had been open for a while. It featured live music and local artists showed their work there.
The three partners evolved into a sole partnership, and Jennifer began doing vegan food; muffins, desserts, and sandwiches. “I had been a vegan for several years, and realized there wasn’t anything in the area that offered vegan food. She began making more menu options inspired by things she had experienced in California.
“Basically, people interested in “clean eating” like to dine out, and there was a big void for healthier vegan options in Pensacola.” As Jennifer expanded her vegan fare, she found more and more people with health issues came to her with no knowledge of how to adjust their diet. “I began to focus on honest, healthy food.”
Over time, she says they help lots of people change their eating habits and educate them on the available vegan products. “I started offering cooking classes for people who wanted to eat healthier but had no clue where to start. It’s like learning a new language. Customers didn’t even know what products were available or how to use them.”
At the time, the only healthy options were pre-packaged items in grocery stores, and that wasn’t always good. “If it has labels with words that have six consonants or numbers, it probably is not good for you,” she tells me. “Clean eating with minimal ingredients is fresh, simple, chemical-free, and preservative-free. It’s empowering to learn how to cook for yourself, and to be in control of your own health.”
Jennifer is passionate, and as a health coach of sorts, explains that a lot of cravings are a direct response from your body that you are missing something. “Different food cravings are signals of a vitamin or mineral deficiency.” She tells me that high fructose corn syrup has lots of descriptive words on the label to make it seem more palatable, but is harmful to your body.
“Dehydration is the main cause of so many issues. Soda and coffee cause dehydration and you need to supplement with lots of water to keep your body functioning properly. Dehydration affects several organs and makes a difference in how you feel. You have to make a first step to healthy living.”
End of the Line Cafe has been open for 21 years. With the renovations, Jennifer will have twice the space and two courtyards for events. She had to stop offering cooking classes during the pandemic but plans to reinstate them once they reopen. She says as soon as the construction is complete next door, they will move the operations there while the current space is renovated. “When we are done, we will put a big opening in the wall to connect the two buildings.”
“Our kitchen is too small and we can’t meet the demand for producing food people want.” Jennifer is working with Dalrymple Sallis Architecture and Hanto & Clarke General Contractors in Pensacola to complete the renovations that she helped design and is overseeing. Once complete, she will host events for private parties, receptions, and speaking engagements. Plans are to enclose the courtyard for wedding events and pop-up shops.
End of the Line will extend its menu with a coffee shop and bakery next door that also has a side courtyard for small events. The new space will have a full bar with beer, wine, and spirits. Plans are to expand its catering, and even the food truck is getting a rehab. She’s been the sole vendor for Pensacola’s Earth Day, and also Vegan Fests in Tallahassee, Destin, and Fairhope.
“A lot is about to happen. There’s so much coming up in the future, and we will be ready.” She says, “There is a rise in veganism. People are more aware of what’s out there. There are all these amazing products in grocery stores now whereas before you could only find vegan products in specialty shops.”
End of the Line makes all its food in-house and uses as many locally grown ingredients as possible. “There is a call for more vegan options and more vegan awareness. People are making the change for better health. It feels good to make clean, house-made food by hand using pots and pans,” she says.
During COVID, Jennifer says they made family-style take-home meals and she was able to keep her entire staff. Charles had told me that Jennifer’s husband passed away 7 years ago when their daughter was three and a half years old. “I decided to focus my energy solely on my daughter and this restaurant. It was something tangible as opposed to inward. It was therapeutic.”
“Being a single mom, you find more reasons to work harder and be proud of what you do. I enjoy what I do and what we have accomplished. We have a great team, and I’m looking forward to the future.” Jennifer tells me she is community-oriented and enjoys being active in food, art walks, and working with organizations serving Pensacola.
She’s looking forward to featuring more local artists when renovations are complete, which should be around mid-fall this year. Her dedication to clean, healthy eating is inspiring and she tells me they only use FairTrade organic products including sugars and coffees in their offerings. “We rely on Mother Nature to keep us on top of our game.”
Thank you, Jennifer! I can’t wait to see the new, fresh End of the Line Cafe when all the work is done. And thank you, Charles, for the tip!