Kingston Jerk: More than just a jerk centre
For years, 2 Chelsea Avenue has established itself as the home of authentic Jamaican jerk. Today, however, the spot formerly known as Pepperwood boasts the kind of newness that will undoubtedly have jerk lovers clamouring to book a table at the popular eatery. Now operating under the moniker Kingston Jerk, the restaurant and bar provides a tantalisingly new and diverse menu that extends beyond the regular jerked chicken or pork. According to owner Gavin Valentine, the latter was something he was keen on establishing as he envisioned Kingston Jerk as more than just a jerk centre.
“My partners and I wanted to maintain the whole jerk aspect of the business, but we also wanted to give our patrons a bit more of what Kingston is like. So we wanted to include Kingston nightlife, Kingston entertainment, and transform the spot into more than just a jerk centre,” he shared.
Valentine said it was important for Kingston Jerk to be more than food. “Anyone who used to come here under the previous management, they could tell you it was one of the best jerk centres around; however, what would happen was, there was no experience other than the food. Now, the experience includes staff that wait on you and ensure your needs are taken care of, an entire bar team (so on any given day you come, the bar service area is up and running, ready to serve you), so you can sit, place your order, and we will ensure you have an experience,” he said.
The owner, who admits that he is a foodie at heart, told Food that a part of the Kingston Jerk experience was diversification. He said while they wanted to maintain jerk as the driving force in the kitchen, they wanted patrons to indulge in much more than jerk cuisine. “We came in and did a number of tastings for about a three-month period before opening in June 2020. We wanted to add new things to the menu and add to the overall experience. So, for example, now you have wings on the menu, you can get burgers, hot dogs; we have pastas, every day, we do curry goat. I just listed a whole bunch of stuff you can have here, and I haven’t even touched on jerk yet,” he said.
A JERK EXPERIENCE
The response from patrons to the changes have been positive, said Valentine. “Before now, this was just seen as a jerk centre. Now we have turned it into a jerk experience, a full-on restaurant, and the reaction from our patrons have been positive. Kingston Jerk is now a hangout spot, and people are loving it. They are actually coming here to just sit and enjoy the experience and service,” he said.
While the additions have been rewarding for the owners of Kingston Jerk, Valentine admits that it was risky opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic. But with Kingston Jerk now celebrating its first anniversary, and an increase in staff, Valentine said the move was a risk worth taking. “My partners and I are serial entrepreneurs, and once an opportunity presents itself, we’re gonna strike. But because we bought the place in June 2020, which was in the middle of the pandemic when everybody else, in general, was trying to figure out what to do, it made the business that much more challenging. Luckily, we still maintained some of what we inherited,” he shared, pointing out that on-property staff quarters allowed them to operate under sterile conditions, which played a huge part in their success.
With staff on-site, they have been able to maintain their own bubble. “In June 2020, when we reopened the business, we were able to, for the most parts, keep the staff sterile because they stayed on-site. There was no travelling on public transportation, so the exposure (to the virus) was limited. That helped them, and that helped our customers. It was safe here,” he said.
Valentine also shared that the E-commerce National Delivery Solution (ENDS) pilot programme offered a lifeline to his business that he will forever be grateful for. “I was able to see positive revenues on the ENDS programme on the days that the curfews were the most stringent. So when we had the 2 o’clock lockdowns on a Sunday and on the days we had no movement at all, the programme really worked,” he said. “We also became more creative out of the ENDS programme because it allowed us to play with the menu, offer combos, etc, and introduce ourselves to partners. The actual deliveries really worked. There were days we were backed up, and I had to come down myself and help out. People were home and hungry, and I am just happy we were able to respond, through delivery, through the ENDS programme.”
Now, on the heels of their first anniversary, Kingston Jerk is enjoying new life at the Chelsea Avenue hotspot, and with the extension of the curfew hours, Valentine says there has been an increase in patronage. He also highlighted that although Kingston Jerk is not a huge part of the entertainment industry, the reopening of the sector has also positively affected his bottom line. He believes people have more confidence in going out, and his business has seen more people passing through, especially on the weekend.