Since 1994, Jamaica House has been serving authentic Jamaican food to all of Richmond. Now they’ve moved from its old spot to a new space at 416 W. Broad Street with more seating and an expanded menu that puts a twist on classic flavors.
When Carena Ives moved to Richmond in 1989, the section of Broad Street now teeming with businesses serving hungry students and locals was only home to a few restaurants. Ives didn’t have any plans to start up her own place, either.
“The idea was to go school and do a normal thing; get a career in nursing, or become an administrative assistant,” Ives said.
Now, Ives is the owner of Jamaica House — which moved to a new location in the Arts District September 8 — and Carena’s Jamaican Grille in Midlothian. Her restaurant experience before opening Jamaica House in 1994 included a few jobs in her hometown of Brooklyn, running registers and food.
“I was always curious, but I really didn’t have much experience… so I just decided, ‘What better thing to do than to open a restaurant?’” Ives said. “It’s crazy looking back on it now. I just realized how audacious that was.”
Living in Brooklyn, Ives was used to the food scene being one of diversity, convenience, and quality. Mid-nineties Richmond was a bit different. Namely, there was a clear lack of classic Jamaican fare.
“I missed my mother’s cooking. I missed having a really good plate of curry goat, the first bite of a hot beef patty right out of the oven. The flaky crust in the hot, spicy filling,” Ives said. “I missed all those things. So I decided, ‘Why don’t I bring some of that to Richmond?’”
After over two decades in the same location on West Broad, Ives and her team are moving to a new building further east. The new location will include expanded seating, better equipment, and innovative new menu items. Compared to the original spot, which could only seat 14 guests at a time, the new building has much more room. It also features a better heating and cooling system — a must for Richmond summers.
“Some of [the customers], to be fair, would call and say, ‘Hmm… how’s it feeling down there today? Is it cool enough?’” Ives laughed. “We’d say ‘Yeah, yeah, come on down. It’s not that bad.’”
The space is also more comfortable for the staff. “It’s going to offer everyone the level of comfort that we should have had years ago,” Ives said.
For Ives, serving her customer base was the priority in choosing the new location.
“It made sense for me to be close to the people we serve,” Ives said. “For the kids at school, it’s completely walkable. Being this close to Jackson Ward is important to us as a small Black business. The history and heritage of Jackson Ward is relevant.”
The pandemic complicated her moving and reopening plans, but Ives is pressing ahead. In the past couple months, it’s been difficult to secure permits and get orders shipped on time; the coronavirus response has impacted the supply chain of materials. The new location is open for online and phone orders, but no dine-in service. They’re observing social distancing rules and cleaning guidelines to keep staff and customers safe.
“I’m hoping soon that will be behind us,” Ives said, “and we can invite everyone in to sit down and relax.”
Jamaica House will also feature new menu items to suit the variety of tastes in the Richmond market.
“Jamaican cuisine is not known for being the most accommodating for vegan or vegetarian tastes. It’s important to me as a business owner, and in my own lifestyle, to do something sustainable,” Ives said. “I want to put dishes out there that I know I’d be happy to eat, love to eat, and feel good eating because I know it will make me super healthy and strong.”
Ives is particularly excited about her new “Big Bout Yah” bowls — a dish with curry chickpeas, butternut squash, and other fixings over a bed of rice and a side of greens. The way Ives talks about it makes the stomach rumble and the heart warm.
“It’s satisfying because with the butternut squash and coconut milk, it’s so rich,” Ives said. “It’s not one of those meals where you eat vegetables and you’re thinking, ‘Uh… I need something else.’ I’m super, super proud of it. I can’t wait for people to start sampling it.”
The new Jamaica House will also feature some menu favorites from Carena’s Jamaican Grille, including spicy jerk wings and salmon in creamy coconut sauce. With the new offerings and new digs, Jamaica House will continue to promise the authentic, tasty cuisine they’re known for, as well as some new favorites for years to come.
Top Photo via Jamaica House