A Taste of the Islands on South Range Line Road: Jamaican Reggae Grill
When Eldon Chuck left the corporate world in 2012 he wasn’t envisioning a future spent playing golf with his buddies.
“I was thinking I was still fairly young and not at a point where I wanted full retirement,” Chuck said. “But I knew I didn’t want to go back to work for someone else so the choices were start another company or do something more hands on and something I enjoyed.”
He knew his friends always enjoyed the Jamaican food he cooked up for gatherings at his home so his thoughts turned to opening a small restaurant featuring the food of his childhood in Jamaica. Food he learned to cook helping his grandmother in the kitchen.
So, in April 2015, he and his wife, Maryann, opened the Jamaican Reggae Grill in the Monon Square Shopping Center in Carmel.
“When we first opened we thought our sales would be within a 10 to 15 mile radius but we have people coming from Greenfield, Greenwood, South Bend – just all over,” the 57-year-old said. “Even to this day we still get many first time visitors which is amazing.”
Laid back chic
Jamaican Reggae Grill can comfortably seat 30 inside and another 36 outside. Planned garden seating for 2017 will double that number.
The décor is a blend of colors typically found in Jamaican restaurants – yellow, green and black – mixed in with earthy colors. A huge mural overlooking the servers’ area depicts the evolution of reggae music.
“The vibe we are trying to portray is laid back chic more or less,” Chuck said. “A place you can come and relax and eat good food and listen to some good chillin’ reggae music.”
All while eating authentic food prepared by Chuck and his wife and their son, Matt.
“I would say our best sellers are the curried goat, jerk chicken, jerk pork and jerk wings,” he said. “The sandwiches are popular too and the patties. Then there is our rum bread and chocolate chip cookies and those (cookies) are my wife’s grandma’s secret recipe – I don’t even know how to make them. We have people come in and ask for them all the time.”
Oxtail is another popular item but only served on Friday and Saturday since it’s difficult to come by, Chuck said.
“We go through a lot of that in two days,” he said. “I’d like to sell it six days a week if I could.”
And while he can’t cook a pig the traditional Jamaican way in a pit with pimento leaves, he has found a way to replicate it using a convection oven.
“The secret is we use bay leaves which are a very close cousin to pimento leaves,” he said. “So we can soak bay leaves in water and put on jerk and it gives it the same flavor – that smoky flavor. So, now everyone knows my secret!”
Chuck calls the menu at Jamaican Reggae Grill ‘comfort food.’”
“If you look at the essence of Jamaican food the basis of the meal is very starchy. In a typical dish you get rice, meat, and cabbage with a little mix of carrots and then fried plantain,” he said. “Meat is a very expensive commodity in Jamaica so most households augment by adding more starch. So when I say comfort maybe a better word would be bellyful since you feel full because of the starch.”
With business booming, Chuck has contemplated expanding.
“People keep saying this is so good but they can only come here once in a while because they live east or way north,” he said. “So, do we get a food truck so reach more people in different places instead of settling on a location that might not be as good maybe as the one we have? A food truck is mobile so if it’s not working in one place we can move it to another.”
No matter what the future brings Chuck knows one thing for sure – his venture into the restaurant business has been a labor of love.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “The work has been much more than I thought it would be but we have so many possibilities because we have been so well received. It’s getting very interesting!”
By Chris Bavender