After a soft open last weekend, Jamaica Mi Hungry’s first year-round, brick-and-mortar location will reopen to the public on Friday, serving jerk chicken and coconut shrimp to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. For chef and owner Ernie Campbell, who has steadily expanded his business over the past seven years, this newest iteration might be his most exciting yet.
“I make a lot of big jumps,” said Campbell, sitting next to general manager Aquila Kentish at one of the scattered tables that fill the new space. “What really was exciting was when I watched what happened this [past] weekend. Because, like, I’m here, people are finding me. I’m not going to them anymore.”
Fans of Jamaica Mi Hungry may know of it first as a catering company, which Campbell launched in 2012 while he was still leading the school lunch program at Belmont Day School. He spent a few years cooking for clients over summer break, solidifying his name in Boston’s Jamaican food scene before launching a food truck in 2015; a seasonal restaurant in Hampton Beach, N.H., in 2016; and a temporary kiosk in Kendall Square in 2018, a space run by Dorchester food incubator CommonWealth Kitchen (Kentish said their time at the kiosk will end in November). But this is the concept’s first permanent, year-round location, a space that sits on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Centre Street directly across from the Jackson Square T stop. While Campbell didn’t know exactly where Jamaica Mi Hungry’s new home would land when he first started looking, he did know that he wanted to make an impression.
“Most of the other Jamaican restaurants are just open in black neighborhoods,” he said. “I wanted to go mainstream. …And my food is a little bit more spicy than any other Jamaican restaurant you go to. But it’s a good spice.”
“Everybody loves good food,” Kentish added. “You don’t have to limit yourself to the people you think are going to eat your food. Everybody will eat it if it’s good.”
While many of the food truck’s popular staples can be ordered, counter service-style, at the new restaurant (you’ll find Campbell’s jerk chicken here, as well as mac and cheese, plantains, and rice and beans), there are also a few new additions: coconut shrimp, pork and beef ribs, and a fish of the day. Other menu items include oxtail, jerk pork shoulder, jerk chicken sandwiches, and roasted Brussels sprouts. Vegetarians can opt for the curry vegetable stew or jerk tofu, and Kentish said that the majority of sides on the menu are vegan.
As for drinks, pineapple soda, mango lemonade, ginger beer, and other options fill a refrigerator behind the counter, and a small bar at the back of the restaurant will eventually serve fresh fruit punches. Campbell said that another goal is to get a beer and wine license and serve popular Caribbean beers.
“Nothing against Sam Adams and all those other beers, but what I’m going to do is find the most popular beer of every Caribbean country [to serve],” Campbell said. “The most popular beer in Jamaica is Red Stripe, so we’ll do that.”
While Jamaica Mi Hungry is still experimenting with closing hours — Kentish said they will close between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. — the restaurant will open at 11 a.m. on business days. Expect the new location to be open six days a week for now, while Kentish and Campbell also experiment with which day they will close each week; check the Jamaica Mi Hungry Facebook page for up-to-date announcements.
Jamaica Mi Hungry; 225 Centre St., Boston; opens on Friday, Sept. 20 from 11 a.m.–close; jamaicmihungry.com