A ? Jamaican flavor experience has returned to Cedar Rapids after a two-year hiatus.
In its first incarnation, Jambayz Island Grill was a popular lunch-only restaurant located in the Witwer Building downtown, serving the authentic Jamaican cuisine of co-owner and chef Wesley Thompson's homeland.
Because of lease restrictions, the business closed after just six months. Thompson and Shanna Kirsch-Thompson, his wife and business partner, spent the next two years regrouping and waiting for the right opportunity to reopen.
Inspiration came in the form of a Food Network program, "Food Court Wars." About a year ago, the couple watched an episode in which a team of aspiring entrepreneurs won space in a Burnsville, Minn., mall for their own Jamaican-concept food court restaurant.
"It reinspired us to look at a different angle for the restaurant," Kirsch-Thompson says. "We had been considering Lindale Mall and couldn't pass up the opportunity. It felt right."
Jambayz Island Grill opened Aug. 1 in the Lindale food court at 4444 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids. The restaurant's location has required a few changes in terms of how the business is operated.
"We had to tweak the menu options so they would be more appealing to shoppers," Kirsch-Thompson said.
The new menu features Jamaican staples like jerk chicken and pork served as sandwiches on coco bread (a slightly sweet Caribbean bread made with a splash of coconut milk) with a choice of side or as entrees with coconut rice and beans and fried plantains. Vegan options also are available.
Kirsch-Thompson said a common misperception about Jamaican food is not that it is overly spicy. "We actually serve it mild and customers can request to up the heat to medium or hot," Kirsch-Thompson says.
It also has new hours. It is open . No longer serving just lunch, t The restaurant is open seven days a week during mall hours.
"My husband only has a half-day off each week," Kirsch-Thompson says. That has presented some challenges, but we are finding there is some down time to catch back up during the day because the traffic is more spaced," Kirsch-Thompson says.
In addition to Thompson, who serves as head chef, Jambayz Island Grill employs a staff of four. Kirsch-Thompson handles marketing and accounting for the business.
She said people have been excited to find a new type of cuisine at the mall.
"There are such diverse cultures in Jamaica that the food truly is a cross-cultural experience," Kirsch-Thompson said. "Just because it's different doesn't mean it's totally off your taste bud radar, Our jerk chicken and waffles are truly an amazing combination." Kirsch-Thompson says.