Jama Fernung is busy.
As busy as she’s ever been. While the COVID-19 quarantine has closed the dining room of the Cicero restaurant she owns with her husband Brent, DeLullo's Trattoria, it has not deterred her loyal customers from supporting her restaurant and enjoying her food.
With the help of her small and loyal staff, she’s cranking out made-from-scratch dinners to-go from her small kitchen on West Jackson Street in Cicero five nights a week. Pesto ravioli. Spaghetti Florentine. Pizza. Tiramisu. But she’s not just serving her usual menu. She’s also getting creative with specials like beef tenderloin medallions with gorgonzola cream and seared sea scallops with parmesan orzo. She’s offering family-style portions of beef stroganoff and lasagna. And she’s not just offering these amazing meals for sale.
She’s also giving them away.
Fernung has long been a fervent supporter of her community, and in these trying times, she’s upping her game. In partnership with the Tipton County Foundation, she donated meals to feed the Tipton Fire, Sheriff, Police and Health Departments. And because of a generous donation from her insurance agent, some Hamilton County service providers will be next. She offered to fry fish so the Knights of Columbus Fish Fry could still take place. She’s making donations to local food pantries and is helping them procure hard-to-get supplies. Giving back to the community she loves has always been her modus operandi.
“When the order came down to close our dining rooms, I laid in my bed that night and cried,” Fernung said. “All I could think about was how much I was going to miss seeing the faces of our regular customers, and how worried I was for our staff. We’re responsible for them; for keeping them employed. I let myself have that one, good cry and then I got my butt out of bed and said, ‘What am I going to do about it? What’s my plan? And I decided I had three priorities: One, stay alive and take care of my family. Two, take care of my staff. And three, take care of my community. So, that’s what I’m doing.’”
The Cicero business community, in particular the restaurant community, has always been tightly knit. They borrow supplies from each other. They trade meals for staff dinners. They host each other’s staff holiday parties. Fernung attributes much of this team spirit to Brett Morrow, who owns 10 West restaurant in downtown Cicero, Cicero Market and The Harbour Market in Noblesville, among other buildings and ventures.
“His leadership brings us together,” Fernung said of Morrow. “We don’t see other food businesses as competition. We see them as partners. For example, we collaborate with Brandy and Jerry Reutebuch from the Cicero Coffee Company to provide catering for the Nickel Plate Express. We also source as many of our ingredients locally as we can. In season, we get much of our produce from the Cicero Farm Market. We get farm-fresh eggs from local producers and we buy Indiana Miller Poultry. My dad even grows our tomatoes!”
Before the world turned upside down, Fernung was already in the food-to-go business. In addition to owning DeLullo's Trattoria, she founded a freshly prepared meals business with her friend Abby Ripberger in January 2020 called For the Love of Food. The pair had embarked on a healthy living challenge and started cooking tasty, clean, fresh meals for themselves and posting photos of them on Facebook. Friends began asking if they could buy those meals. They thought, “Why not? We already have a commercial kitchen.” In a week, they had sold 130 meals. By week three, that number tripled. They continue to prepare around 300 meals per week for regular customers, specializing in meals that cater to dietary restrictions such as Keto, vegan, and gluten-free. Pre-ordered meals can be picked up on Sundays in Cicero, Tipton, Kokomo and Elwood.
Fernung bought DeLullo's Trattoria from Kay DeLullo in 2017, after leaving corporate America to find a more family-friendly lifestyle. In the restaurant business, she found her calling.
“I know I’m never going to get rich doing this,” Fernung said. “But my purpose in life is to feed people. And right now, that feels more important than ever. I’m not a nurse, but I can cook. I own a small business in a small community. So my job, as I see it, is to take the support that the community offers me and channel it right back into the community. The people of Cicero and the surrounding Hamilton County towns have rallied to support my business, and I owe them a debt of gratitude. As long as I can get out of bed in the morning, I’ll keep feeding people.”