Restaurant Road Trip: Jamaican Spice

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As of Wednesday, June 17, the restaurant Jamaican Spice has been open for exactly 6 months and already it has a loyal customer base who love the authentic Jamaican food.

What keeps them coming back?

“Our signature dish is the jerk chicken, everyone loves the jerk chicken,” Owner and Operator Kela Munye said. “It’s spicy, it’s authentic, it’s made on the charcoal grill, so that’s one of the customers’ number one favorites. It’s really good.”

Munye, a native of Jamaica, serves up classics that go beyond jerk chicken, including oxtail, fried plantains, red snapper, cabbage and much more. All of this leaves regulars like John Shabazz coming back for more.

Munye preparing an order of jerk chicken with a side of fried plantain, as well as red bean and rice. All, of course, drizzled in her special sauce

“She has that jerk chicken and she has the cabbage and prior to eating her food, eating the Jamaican food, I used to eat Chinese,” Shabazz said. “I found that the Jamaican food was better on my system, so that’s one of the reasons I keep coming back and it’s really wholesome good food.”

Shabazz said he would recommend the oxtail, cabbage and some of the many Jamaican fruit drinks Jamaican Spice has available. The fruit drinks available at Jamaican Spice include mango, pineapple and grapefruit. Shabazz went as far as saying he would recommend all the food he has tried at Jamaican Spice because they were all that good.

This kind of passion for her restaurant is not what Munye expected when she first opened six months ago.

“At first, when my husband told me ‘Kela I think you could do so well with a Jamaican restaurant’, I was so hesitant,” Munye said. “But after I opened, and I see the joy that these people come in with, like ‘oh my god, we’ve been waiting for this for so long’. It just makes me feel good to know that we can bring that part of our heritage here and they just embrace it well, they love it.”

Munye digging into oxtail platter to fill customer order

Munye, of course, opened right before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, however, she said it didn’t have too much of an impact on her business. While many restaurants are finding it hard to get customers back, Jamaican Spice has the same number of customers right now as it did prior to the pandemic, Munye said.

Munye said the first two weeks after reopening were hard, but that was primarily because it was hard to get the products they needed to sell. As a result, she decided to close for a week to figure out a strategy.

“After a week, I realized that our customers were really missing us after a week and so I made the adjustment to make sure I get what I need and I was able to open my online store, so they can utilize it,” Munye said. “That way they wouldn’t have to come inside and just maintain the social distancing.”

Munye said the customers have responded very well to her online ordering option. In fact, she said customers have loved her reopening process so much that they have been pouring in nonstop support, which probably helped the restaurant get back to where it was prior to the pandemic.

It is the quality food, as well as loyal and appreciative customers that have Jamaican Spice doing so well during its first six months. That will continue to be the recipe for keeping the business going for as long as Munye desires.

Shabazz, the regular, said another element that makes Munye successful is the, “great impact,” her restaurant has on the community.

“You’ll see people coming from across the board,” Shabazz said. “It feels good to be able to come to an area where you can — a restaurant, where you can be able to come to have a wholesome environment and go about your business. Plus I also meet a lot of local people that stop through and get their food, so I run into friends and so forth. It’s a nice spot, I hope she continues to do well.”

In addition to bringing people together, Munye also worked in collaboration with the Salvation Army of Marion, Monongalia and Preston Counties during the COVID-19 pandemic. The duo donated free food made at Jamaican Spice to different departments at Ruby Memorial Hospital for several weeks.

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