clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jerk Shack Is Fighting to Keep Its Downtown Location Alive

The Black-owned Caribbean restaurant is crowdfunding with hopes of reopening soon

A Black man in a chef’s apron standing in an empty restaurant
Jerk Shack owner Trey Lamont
Greg Westhoff

Jerk Shack, the popular Caribbean restaurant which recently opened a counter-service location in the Central District’s Midtown Square development, has issued an S.O.S. After six years in business and a summer-long temporary closure, the restaurant launched a GoFundMe page on August 13, with owner Trey Lamont saying that the Belltown location needed community support to buoy a reopening effort.

On the GoFundMe page, Lamont says the original Jerk Shack location is “the ONLY 100% Black-owned restaurant in downtown Seattle.” When opened, it served Caribbean island classics like the eponymous jerk chicken, as well as dishes with a more PNW spin — Cuban-spiced salmon, a deep-fried soft shell crab sandwich. It temporarily shuttered on Memorial Day, the same day the Midtown Square location opened its doors. Lamont cites pandemic aftershocks, most prominently staffing issues, as the major force propelling the closure.

“I had staff members wanting to work at the new location instead of downtown,” Lamont tells Eater Seattle. “We just didn’t have enough staffing downtown, kitchen or front-of-house.”

He thought the restaurant would be able to return from its forced hiatus in early July, but finding new workers proved even harder than anticipated, a common complaint among restaurant owners in an unusually tight labor market. “We had over 100 applicants for the downtown location. Zero people showed up for their interviews,” he says.

Jerk Shack Kitchen, the Central District counter-service spinoff that opened in June, is Lamont’s proof of concept for a franchise he hopes will eventually span the West Coast. He was able to get the location in Midtown Square off the ground thanks to investment capital, and Jerk Shack Kitchen is an entirely separate business entity from the original Belltown restaurant.

The problem facing the original location, he says, is that it’s a middle price range, sit-down restaurant, the kind of spots where you can celebrate a birthday but don’t have to wear a sport coat. Lamont thinks those are the toughest operations to sustain at the moment. “It’s either really fine dining or it’s something that is super fast and scalable. If it’s anything in between, you’re not going to survive,” he says.

Lamont applied for a grant from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), which provided $28.6 billion in federal aid to restaurants impacted by the pandemic in 2021 and 2022. The dispersal of RRF funds was rife with controversy, including lawsuits from white male restaurateurs who claimed discrimination due to the initiative’s stated goal to prioritize applicants from “socially or economically disadvantaged” groups, including women and people of color. In Seattle, many restaurant owners spoke out about their frustration with the way grants were distributed locally. James Lin, the owner Ballard brunch favorite Watson’s Counter, which got $104,000 in funds, told the Seattle Times in July 2021 that he was upset to see white owners of sprawling restaurant groups get most of the money. (Notably, Duke’s Chowder House and Tom Douglas Restaurants received $10 million each.)

Jerk Shack was among the businesses owned by people of color that didn’t get any RRF grants, leading it to try the crowdfunding route. It set a fundraising goal of $100,000, but so far less than $4,000 has “trickled in,” as Lamont puts it. He says that if the restaurant meets its goal and is able to reopen, it will be pivoting to a counter-service model until he is able to hire more staff.

“After the pandemic hit,” Lamont says, “people just stopped coming downtown. And I think the Black community is going to be the last to come back downtown… We don’t really have enough representation downtown.” Lamont, who was born and raised in the Central District, says that there are not many places in the city’s core where he feels at home, where “I can find people who can relate to me, where they’re going to play the music that I love to listen to, where I’m going to eat the flavors I recognize and crave… I think Jerk Shack represents something that is necessary.”

Jerk Shack

2510 1st Avenue, , WA 98121 (206) 441-7817 Visit Website