In 2011, David Wisdom emigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Armed with some entrepreneurial experience, he hoped to hit it big in New York. The young businessman discovered a lack of accessible Jamaican fare throughout the non-ethnic areas of the city. With a desire to expose Americans to the food of his country of origin, he opened the doors to ReCaFo (31-00 47th Avenue, Queens; 855-373-2236), a fast-casual concept specializing in “Real Caribbean Food.” Just one year after opening the first location, Wisdom and his team are preparing to expand to a new location in Industry City in just a couple weeks.
The concept focuses on bringing Jamaican fare to the American market. It serves widely known dishes, like jerk chicken ($5.55/$8.50/$9.95) and jerk pork ($9.50/$10.95), in addition to lesser-known specialties. Its brown stew chicken ($5.55/$8.50/$9.95) is fried and then slowly simmered in a fragrant liquid with scotch bonnet peppers, onions, and carrots. Oxtails ($9.95/$11.95) are stewed in a similar gravy. Chicken ($5.55/$8.50/$9.95) and goat ($9.50/$10.95) are offered in an aromatic Jamaican curry. Coconut rice and peas or white rice, fried plantains, and tossed salad come on the side of each.
“Our cuisine is eclectic,” says Wisdom. “Say you have a cow, every portion is eaten: oxtails, entrails, liver, kidneys. A lot of these things seem taboo, but we’re trying to create other Jamaica products to bring people into the cuisine.”
Most of the traditional dishes of the island nation are heavy on the meat. At ReCaFo, Wisdom has created some vegetarian dishes with Jamaican spices to cater to larger swaths of the population. His veggie chunks ($9.95/$11.95) feature soy protein cooked down with a proprietary blend of spices and seasonings. Jerk tofu ($9.95/$11.95) is also on the menu. “Everyone in Jamaica eats meat,” says Wisdom. “But a lot of customers ask, ‘What do you have for vegetarians?’ We’re currently working on other products, as well.”
Originally located at a stand at the Long Island Flea, ReCaFo moved into its current brick-and-mortar location, in the Falchi Building, about a year ago. Until that point Wisdom and marketing director Dave Smith had been doing everything on their own. Unable to get a line of credit due to his lack of history in the United States, Wisdom funded his venture through his salary from working at JFK airport. He partnered with an existing Jamaican restaurant to cook his food when he began. However, after Jamestown Properties, owners of Chelsea Market, invited the pair to conduct a tasting, the real-estate developer offered a deal on its site inside the newly renovated Falchi. To help ReCaFo get a step up, the company worked up a licensing agreement for the small business.
Jamestown also brought Wisdom into the fold of Industry City (20 36th Street, first floor, #109, Brooklyn; 855-373-2236). Again, the company invited Wisdom and his team in for a tasting at its Brooklyn facility. According to Wisdom, everyone was floored. A week after the event, Jamestown approached ReCaFo again, offering space to expand. “Without them, ReCaFo wouldn’t be where it is today,” says Wisdom.
With a goal of becoming the Chipotle of Jamaican food, Wisdom plans to continue on with the forward momentum. He does not yet have a next location planned out, but based on his track record, he trusts that a new opportunity will cross his path.
Although Wisdom credits hard work for his restaurant’s rapid success, he also believes that his new life in the U.S. helped to make it possible. “It’s been three years since we’ve been here,” he says. “I tell you, the American Dream is real. We started in a 10-by-10 space and we’ll be employing 10 employees. We want people to know that underneath all the nice stuff, the struggles are real. You have to be able to work for it, and once you achieve it, you have to be willing to give back.”
The new location is slated to open on January 5.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.