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A Piece Of Jamaica In Texas

How a husband and wife business duo opened Dallas-Fort Worth to a new flavor
Photo: Bone Daddy’s House of Smoke | Facebook

In a little over a decade husband and wife duo, Richard Thomas and Chalon Clark went from having a single restaurant location in Dallas to a diverse portfolio of hospitality brands showcasing authentic Jamaican cuisine and culture: Bone Daddy’s House of Smoke, The Island Spot Jamaican Kitchen and Bar and The Island Spot Villas in Jamaica, and more expansions are on the way.

Richard Thomas and Chalon Clark with their three daughters. Photo: The Island Spot | Facebook

But how did Clark, a partner in a law firm, and Thomas, a physics major, turn their culture into a fresh option within the Dallas-Fort Worth hospitality and cuisine landscape? Well, it began with a pinch of disappointment. In 2009, Thomas’ coworkers wanted to celebrate his birthday by taking him to a Jamaican restaurant for lunch. “When we arrived, I was embarrassed,” Thomas told Local Profile. “The decor was inadequate, it was dark, the service was poor, and there were flies around the food. I thought to myself, “Is this the best my culture has to offer in Dallas?” And I decided to change that.”

And he did. Starting small, he asked Clark for help decorating their first restaurant: The Island Spot. “He gave me $500 and told me I was the interior decorator,” recalls Clark. A couple of years later, the same thing happened when Thomas told her that he had bought a house to remodel and flip, but this time, there was a little more budget for decorations: $2000. “I went to garage sales and took advantage of my law firm giving away old furniture which I reupholstered by hand. At the end of the project, the realtor we hired asked who the designer was and tried to hire me for staging. I repeatedly turned it down, thinking I’m not a designer, I’m just a lawyer!”

But when the pandemic hit and Clark had some time to think about the past ten years, things changed. “I had 2 restaurants and 4 homes in my portfolio — so maybe I was more than just a lawyer,” says Clark. “I opened Design Redefined in 2021. I now design residential spaces, commercial spaces and The Island Spot Villas.”

But what’s the secret behind The Island Spot Jamaican Kitchen and Bar’s curated menu? “Two words: Mama Joyce,” he says. “The vast majority of the recipes we use today are from the original recipes from my mother. We had a French-trained chef work with Mama Joyce to take her home recipes and convert them into restaurant scale so that we can train the other chefs on our team to execute it with her care and love.”

Not only they are training chefs for taking into a different type of cuisine, but they are helping customers learn about Jamaican dishes as well. “We love when we get a customer who hasn’t experienced Jamaican cuisine before, that means they are there to experience something new,” continued Thomas. He explained that the menu is divided into two categories: “Straight from Yawd, or directly from our home, that is where you will find some of the more authentic dishes such as oxtails and curry chicken… and a Jamericanize' section where we take some items that people already know and love and add our Jamaican spin to it.” This provides guests with a transition menu with items they are familiar with, before adventuring into the more authentic Jamaican flare.

Another thing that makes these dishes unique is the ingredients they use to make them. “At first, we used to fly to Jamaica and bring back certain spices in bulk,” says Thomas. This was until they found an importer who could do the shipping for them, but also, they added a new layer of homemade-ness to the kitchen. “We’ve also begun to make some of these items in-house utilizing locally sourced products to continue evolving in creating the best and freshest dishes.”

As professionals who ventured into a new industry, Thomas and Clark learned a lot on the way and they share their experience with aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter the hospitality sector. “Marketing and retention are key,” says Clark. “No matter how much people love and support you, they will go back to their regular habits. Continuous marketing before and after opening is essential. Then, you have to keep the customer with good food and overwhelming hospitality.”

“One more thing I would add is to be passionate about people,” adds Thomas. “Your team is the most critical component in providing great experiences for your guests. “Chalon can design a beautiful store but if I’m not able to manage my team and have them be excited to wow our guests every day, we waste a beautiful space and an opportunity to make a difference in that guest’s life.”