Tommy Isaacs and Marjorie Salmon, new owners of Joy’s Jerk Shack in Havelock, believe they know the most important ingredient in the Jamaican style food they serve.
“The one word I would say describes our preparation, and that’s love,” Isaacs said. “We have to literally put our hearts into prepping our food to bring the quality that we want to the public. The food we cook here in the restaurant is the same food we serve our families. Everything’s about love and making sure the quality of food we make is the best quality.”
Joy’s Jerk Shack opened June 6 in the Westbrooke Shopping Center in Havelock, and the co-owners said the feedback from customers has been good.
“They will stand here for minutes trying to decide what to order,” Salmon said. “They’re usually in awe when we give them a sample. You’ve got to have a love for cooking and you pour all that and all your energy into cooking the food, and it comes out as your best. That’s what it is.”
Isaacs said he got the vision of opening the restaurant one day when driving home from his work as a Marine at Camp Johnson in Jacksonville. His inspiration comes from his mother, Joy Elaine Isaacs, who died in 2006 and for whom the restaurant is named.
“I felt it was something I felt I needed to do as a remembrance of who she was as a woman, a mother, and a caretaker for a multitude of people,” Isaacs said. “She was a type of woman who always liked to give. She was never about receiving. She always loved to cook daily for me and my friends, and I always sat back and watched her joy in the food she was providing. I thought, what’s the one thing that I could do to make her name known to the community, so that’s why I named the restaurant Joy.”
Isaacs had been working on the concept of his restaurant for about two years when he met Salmon. She, like Isaacs, grew up in Jamaica and grew up eating the food they now serve.
Salmon was in Havelock and was thinking of moving to New York to open a restaurant there with family when Isaacs told her of his dream.
“I was really inspired to work with Tommy knowing the faith he had and the will to see this through, that he had this idea for two years and was struggling for two years,” she said. “A lot of people would have given up, but he was determined, and when he approached me, I really wanted to work with this man. He has the type of drive that I have, and with both of us together, we can do this. We can make this work.
“I enjoy working with him. We work as a team. It’s like we were meant to work together. We see eye-to-eye with everything. If he thinks of something, I finish it. If I think of something, he finishes it. It’s like it was meant to be for both of us to work together, and I think that’s the reason things are going so well.”
Isaacs said Salmon came along at just the right time.
“She was the finishing touch,” he said. “She had to come along when she did to put the icing on the cake. No matter how many ingredients go into a cake, if you don’t have that finishing touch, it’s just ingredients.
“She came along with the business mentality and she had what I was lacking, which was a new insight. So many years I had been dreaming this, I started losing track and wasn’t seeing the picture as clear through all the trials and the stress and the ups and downs, and she came with a new energy and new vibe, and I told her it was hers to carry and control. I had carried it for two years, and it was her turn to mold it into what she wanted it to be.”
The menu includes such items as jerk chicken, jerk wings, curry chicken, curry goat and oxtail in small, medium and large sizes that generally range in price from $4.95 to $11.95. Side dishes include rice and peas, veggies or plantains. The beef patties with coco bread have been particularly popular, Salmon said.
“Each menu item uses different kinds of traditional Jamaican seasonings that go all the way back to the Arawak Indians, who were the original inhabitants of Jamaica,” Salmon said. “They came up with the jerk seasonings. They didn’t have refrigerators, so it was tough to store food. The jerk seasoning came about as a way to preserve the food.”
The restaurant has seating for 16 and includes Jamaican music over the speakers, a large sunset mural and a few posters of Bob Marley.
“It’s not a love of money that drives us,” Isaacs said. “It’s the love of the food and the enjoyment of seeing people enjoy the culture who haven’t really experienced it. You had to leave and go on a cruise, but it’s right here in your backyard.”
Salmon said the goal has been to provide good food at a good price while introducing Jamaica to residents of Havelock.
“We want people to come in and enjoy the food and not have to pay a lot for it,” she said. “People are saying that they love the food and that it’s very reasonable. The prices are reasonable, and they’re happy about that. It wasn’t about the money. We wanted to do this to bring something new to the community, to give the community a different taste and show them what our culture is all about at a reasonable price.”
Isaacs said that he put his faith in God, who has been his guide in getting the restaurant open and who brought Salmon into his life at just the right time.
“There is so much love in this place,” he said. “The environment is calm. We enjoy coming here. I know the hours are long, but it doesn’t seem that way because we are so tight as a unit. It was a dream of mine and it was a dream of hers and now we’re actually watching each other’s dreams come true. It’s really enjoyable. At times, I still can’t believe we’re actually doing it, but it’s actually happening.”
The restaurant is located at 490 U.S. 70 West in the Westbrooke Shopping Center. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 652-9502.