In 2011, I went on vacation to Jamaica and fell in love with the flavorful cuisine. Thanks to Irie Jamaican Kitchen, I can experience authentic Jamaican food right here in Cleveland. With two locations (East and West) you can easily enjoy the delicious offerings no matter where you are.
Omar McKay, the owner and executive chef of Irie, was kind enough to answer some questions so that you can get to know him and his business a bit better.
Tell me about how your business first started and how it’s grown since then.
The physical brick and mortar business or the business I’ve had in my brains for years?! Having worked in countless restaurant settings I had a clear vision of what I would want my own place to be: relaxed, delicious, and affordable. My ideas began at the food court at Richmond Mall where “Irie Patties” was born. I developed a following based on my take on Jamaican food. I wasn’t the only Jamaican shop in Cleveland but I was the only one doing it boneless! (Our chicken is all boneless)
I also wanted to be sure to incorporate all of the good vibes of my native Jamaica all while presenting it in a way that was welcoming and inviting. Mixing traditional dishes and fusion elements, that’s what Irie is all about! Now we are blessed with 2 locations with future plans for more IJK’s in Ohio. My mother always said to keep on cooking and I fully intend to do so. To this day I still use one of her pots from Jamaica.
How does Irie give back to the community?
Our motto is to LIVE IRIE-EAT IRIE. When we hear about a need in the community we help where we can. During the recent shutdown/pandemic we donated family meals to those in need in our local communities. We worked with organizations who helped families obtain basic needs. Our customers were also able to donate dinners which was a big success. We’ve also sent supplies with collected donations to Bahamas after hurricane Dorian ravaged the islands. We hope to partner with an organization in Jamaica in the very near future to help develop communities and schools.
What are your personal favorite menu items?
Hands down both the jerk and curry chicken are our go-to! Spicy and mild and everything nice. Served over rice and peas + cabbage and plantains round the meal with a side of mango salsa and some cornbread.
What do you see as Cleveland’s greatest strength?
Clevelanders are resilient and we never lose hope. Cleveland is a State of Mind and you have to be tough!
What is it’s greatest challenge?
For as long as I can remember, I wondered why the downtown/waterfront areas were not more developed. Driving into downtown on I-90 and passing by Burke Airport every day.
I often imagine that space being a mixed space of living, retail, and green areas for all to enjoy. Often we use prime land for buildings that are not even used all year round. When a city’s physical landscape is developed it helps to attract people and business and in turn, develops and boosts the local economy, create jobs, and more.
I think we can do better with land utilization to fully feature the beauty of Cleveland. Our best feature is our Great Lake!
The positive vibes, the delicious food, and the commitment to their community both here and in Jamaica make Irie Jamaican Kitchen an authentically Cleveland business worth a visit (or several.) Both locations are open for pickup and walk-in orders.