Chicken Tradition: A family’s life in the kitchen passed down from generation to generation | Haverhill

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Mother Cluckers Restaurant is a buttermilk dream born of generations of Cannons.

Above all, the restaurant in Primrose Street has courage.

Gerald Cannon is now too sick with pancreatic cancer to work at the restaurant he opened with his son in early 2021. The cancer has spread to his spine.

His son, Jomar, now owns the chicken restaurant known for its quick home-cooked meals, but Gerald is here this afternoon with a walker and his sister, Ceci.

This – her first name is Cheralyn – helps her cross the bright yellow floor to a high table near the door.

The entire restaurant is in sight from this vantage point.

At the counter, customers browse the menu displayed above on illuminated panels.

Many of these people are regulars and know what they want to eat.

Still, they go over fun names for the sandwiches, including The Mother, Holy Cluckamole, Cluck’n Slaw, Four Two Zero, and Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.

Beyond the counter is a corner cabinet where customers pick up take-out orders in white paper bags. Often they will glance at the photos of the Cannon family placed on the metal shelves of the cabinet or stop and take a closer look.

Also in view of Gerald’s table is the open kitchen where Jomar and his team make buttermilk-coated chicken sandwiches piled high with family-recipe pickles, coleslaw, gravy and the like.

A must in Haverhill

Gerald is sweet and outgoing and well known in Haverhill. He worked or managed or owned local restaurants, pizzerias and sandwich shops.

He owned Andino Pizzeria — Andino is his wife’s maiden name — from 2009 to 2012 and before that, a sausage cart in downtown Washington Square.

Gerald knows the golden rule – how to treat people – and he gets along with people from all walks of life and of all ages.

His likeness is among the local legends prominently displayed on the large mural in the Essex Street footbridge. It’s the bald man in the brown shirt sitting in the front row, his arms crossed, his face pensive in his hand.

Long before all of this, Gerald as a child worked in the deli at the family store, Cannon Variety.

Gerald is slim now and wears a gray watch cap with the Vans sneaker brand name on it, a favorite skater shoe.

Gerald’s sport was wrestling.

He wrestled at 169 pounds for Timberlane Regional High School and was a member of the program’s first state championship team.

During high school summers in the late 1980s, Gerald and a few guys traveled to places where wrestling is an obsession, Pennsylvania and Iowa, to train and compete, arrangements made by the legendary trainer Barry Chooljian.

Ceci, who lives in Bradford, has a maternal relationship with her brother. She makes sure he has water and is comfortable.

She and her immediate family are vigilant about Gerald’s care, making sure he goes to medical appointments, fills and takes his prescriptions, and eats nutritious food.

Gérald’s wife of 26 years is Sonia. Their three children are Jomar, 25; Armani, 23; and Kamilah, 19.

Gerald was released from hospital at the end of winter after battling an infection. He was hospitalized earlier with another serious infection.

He underwent surgeries, including the removal of lymph nodes.

His radiation treatments ended in December, but he will receive chemotherapy indefinitely.

He had previously been told, a year ago, that he was in remission. But the cancer came back.

He had his ups and downs in his treatment.

He and his family remain hopeful. Friends in the restaurant business held a fundraiser for him earlier this year, and his sister set up the Gerald Cannon Healing Miracle GoFundMe account (https://bit.ly/3yAvlBp) to help pay for the treatment. He raised over $11,000 towards a goal of $100,000.

Memories created

Meanwhile, at the table, Gerald, 52, and Ceci, 53, talk about their past, much of it related to cooking and music. Food and music race in their blood.

The guns originally come from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In the early 1970s, when Gerald was 4 years old, a tornado in Oklahoma hit and came through the window of their house.

Thereafter, their father, Donnie, a commodity manager, loaded up his relatives and moved them north and east to Plaistow, New Hampshire.

Donnie, who died in 2012, was a bassist who toured with rock and rockabilly bands from his teenage years.

He played with JJ Cale and Leon Russell and drove the legendary Carl Perkins bus.

Donnie could do whatever he wanted but was always careful not to step on Perkins’ “blue suede shoes”.

Ceci and Gerald’s brother, Tim, was a born musician and played all his life. He died at age 36 in 2012.

This has always been a singer. She sang with the Brandy band for 26 years until September when an infection caused a stroke and took the hearing in one ear.

She still has it.

Asked to sing a jingle she and Tim did for a Seacoast New Hampshire restaurant years ago, she doesn’t hesitate.

She sings the catchy melody with aplomb and surprises herself, as she hasn’t sung since her hearing loss.

Gérald likes to listen to music but does not play it. His domain is the kitchen.

He says a lot of the family’s recipes come from Oklahoma. Some come from their “Mamaw”, a regional name used affectionately for grandmother – a mother’s mother.

“Buttermilk was key,” says Gerald. “We used to make everything with buttermilk, including pancakes – for breakfast and dinner.”

Donnie was the cook. At the Cannon Variety deli, he taught Gerald how to make great meals to order for people on the go.

Donnie brought a lot of chicken to fry on the weekends. Around Thanksgiving, he made turkey sandwiches that became a cornerstone of the family tradition.

It was a turkey dinner between buns.

Mother Cluckers fashioned their Winner Winner sandwich after him, replacing the turkey with chicken. The Winner Winner brings back memories.

“When I first took a bite, I literally had tears,” Ceci says.

Gerald’s first adventure in the kitchen dates back to the age of 8. He was a Cub and had a mission. For making Cranberry Orange Relish. He did it with his mother, Cheryl.

Gerald’s eyes widen.

“I remember it as clearly as I can,” he says.

“I remember it was cold. It was for Thanksgiving, right? he said to his sister. She nods.

Gérald and his mother followed the recipe exactly as written, right down to the amount of orange juice.

Making the relish has become a tradition, only now, and for years he has known the recipe by heart.

Ceci and Gerald recall other family foods, including Harvest Bread, a chocolate chip pumpkin bread with nuts.

Their father also taught them how to make homemade noodles. They look more like dumplings.

Ceci taught her son, Donny, 15, how to make them last Christmas.

By pressing

A couple enters the restaurant and takes a minute to contemplate the menu.

Gerald makes easy conversation with them, asking them what they like.

Wife says she prefers sandwiches with stuff. The guy loves The Mother, the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.

Gerald says he also tends to eat his sandwich plain.

Taking orders from customers behind the counter is Leigh Flores. She got the job after bumping into Gerald months ago.

She used to work with him at Chipotle. They got along well. Gérald has a sense of humor and likes to laugh.

He told her at the time about his idea of ​​opening a restaurant named Mother Cluckers. He had read the name online and thought it would work for a restaurant that served chicken.

Flores wasn’t sure the name would fly, but he stayed here at the former homes of Lucky’s Pizza and Mike’s Famous Roast Beef.

As the sun sets and the light streams in from the restaurant’s large bay window, Jomar finishes his shift.

This is the last of what usually amounts to 70 hours. Her crew includes family friend Janai Johnson. Johnson and Jomar have known each other since kindergarten.

Jomar put into practice everything his father taught him about cooking and catering.

Above all, it is the commitment he has learned, a practical commitment to ensure that customers are satisfied.

Running a restaurant is a tenuous business.

Most don’t make it, but the people in the restaurant return, sporting clean aprons, napkins slung over their shoulders, back to plate their new dream.

Gerald Cannons dream is Mother Cluckers, a buttermilk dream born of generations of Cannons and continued by his son.

There are still younger parents who maintain the family tradition.

Gerald’s nephews Jvien Andino, 15, and Donny Cannon, 15, tied white aprons and work in the kitchen at Mother Cluckers.


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