A new Jamaican restaurant has appeared in Cloverdale.
Tommie’s Jerk has been offering a variety of tacos and burritos for the past few months.
Tommie’s Facebook page features the new take-out store as “a fresh and innovative way to share Jamaican jerk chicken tacos.” But the restaurant is so much more.
Located behind the Cloverdale Community Kitchen on the 180th, the little restaurant has an indescribable door and a humble sign. When I arrive, the barbecues in the parking lot are smoking as the smoke from the grilled jerk chicken and beef swirls through the air. Smoke rises from the parking lot and shipping containers that house the low-cost bike store, Cloverdale Community Cycles, next door. Music drifts through the lot too.
Owner Tai Brown jumps out the door and hits the grill to chop and flip meat. He then talks to some clients. Go back to a small door to get some food. Take a selfie with other customers. Come back inside. Brings free samples for even more customers. Works. Jumps. Slides.
The man jumps around. And at 6’4 “- 240, that’s a big bounce. But he’s light and that also seems to reflect his personality: agile and passionate.
I quickly realize that Tommie’s Jerk isn’t just about the food – it definitely is is about the food, but it’s also about Tai.
When I chat with Tai, his face reveals everything you need to know about the man. He can’t hide who he is. A big smile reflects the size of the love he has for people and food. His eyes are windows that show the joy with which man lives today after going through “dark times” as he describes it, and coming out the other side, skinned, but ultimately healed and better for it. .
While Tai is chatting with customers and chatting with all client, his contagious joy infects everyone and everyone leaves with a smile on their face.
He named the restaurant after his biological mother, who still inspires him, and the idea of ââopening a restaurant arose out of a desire to bring his culture and love of food to Canada.
A native of Windy City, Tai followed a woman here several years ago. The relationship eventually ended, but he fell in love with life north of the border and stayed.
As Tai thought about which food route he would take, he began to experiment with his cooking.
He stumbled upon the idea of ââmaking jerk tacos / burritos. Usually jerk chicken is served as a whole thigh / thigh, he tells me. But with the tacos and âmore experimentation to come,â Tai believes he can reach a wider audience.
“How can I bring my culture here? Â»Tai asks. “But also, how can I put my own twist on it?” “
He got the Jamaican side of his culture from his adoptive mother Ceolia, a Jamaican immigrant to Chicago in the 1960s.
âShe was always experimenting with different things. Always experimenting with this or that.
He says she used to experiment with everything from mac and cheese to gouda to gourmet dishes.
âThere were lines of people in front of my house when my brother and I came home from school. Anyone from the mayor to an unlucky man would eat at my mom’s table.
This table of great food and experimentation rubs off on Tai.
He says he’s done a ton of different things, but finally hitting Vancouver’s 420 a few years ago was his turning point. He came down to Sunset Beach in a chef’s jacket one April to test his products on the masses.
No one knew anything about Tai or Tommie’s Jerk, he says, so when he got to the beach he just looked for the biggest man he could find. Someone who would dominate Tai.
âI said, ‘Look, what if I feed you? You just have to taste it. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. You are not going to hurt me. I’m not looking for trouble with you. We know that.’ So he said, ‘good.’ And I did and gave him a drink.
Tai said the big man took a few bites and didn’t say a word. As he remained speechless, the tall man’s girlfriend snatched the taco out of his hand and took a bite. âShe said, ‘Yeeeee-aaaaah! It’s so good.'”
After that, the couple spread the word among the crowd.
âIt took me longer to find a parking lot and get there than I needed to sell all of my food,â he laughs.
Tai realized he wanted to bring this experience to a brick and mortar store near his Surrey home. Tai lives on the Cloverdale-Newton border.
After looking around for a bit, Tai contacted the community kitchen as they had space to rent. And after going through a huge amount of paperwork on the part of the city and Fraser Health, Tommie’s Jerk opened in March.
Entering his fourth month at the Community Kitchen, Tai says he will be opening a restaurant in the Cloverdale area by the end of the year.
âCloverdale has shown me so much love and it’s been really, really good so far,â he says. âBut we are outside the central zone. We are far at the end of a cul-de-sac.
He says he loves Cloverdale because it’s a crossroads and he gets a lot of business from people in Langley (a lot of people who work at dealerships) and Newton. But he adds that he will be able to attract more customers with a more centralized location. He also wants a suitable seating area. Currently, people can sit outside, which he says is fine for now, but once winter comes he will need those seats inside.
So far, business has been good and word of mouth has been her best marketing tool.
âOnce you serve a great product, provide great service, and build great customer relationships, that’s when people say, ‘Hey, that’s great.’ Then they tell people, then they tell people, then they tell people.
Tai says he can’t take credit for it, but I remind him that he cooked the food, served the people, and built those relationships.
âWell, I listen to my clients,â Tai laughs. Her smile hangs over her face. “They’re like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this or try?'”
Tai thinks that if a customer wants something specific, it’s not a stretch to think that another customer will like the same. This attitude keeps him open to trying anything.
“I’m working on a ground pork recipe to see what happens and it has received rave reviews so far.”
Its testing process involves dozens of tasters. If his pig goes with them, he will make the menu.
Tai went to Jamaica to learn the best practices of jerk cooking firsthand. He says Jamaican jerk isn’t just about spices. “The shake, ultimately, comes from the smoke.”
He strives to make his food and restaurant creative and innovative and reflect the love his two mothers (both now deceased) had for people. And honor the two women.
I ask Tai what his ultimate goal is. He stops for a moment. Her big smile slowly begins to return, first to the corners of her eyes, then to her mouth, then her cheeks glow. His innate passion was now fully expressed on his face.
âMy goal is just to bring the Jamaican experience here to BC and spread it out. To share it with people. To share good food with people. To meet people. I like people. When you come (to Tommie’s Jerk), it’s an atmosphere, it’s an aura, it’s an experience.
Tai says he’ll be releasing Jamaican patties soon, and he’s also working on jerk egg rolls.
âI always try to be innovative. I always try to create new things.
Tommie’s Jerk is located behind the Cloverdale Community Kitchen at 5337 180 Street and is open Fridays and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tommie’s is also available on Uber Eats and DoorDash and it can be found on Instagram and Facebook.