Owner of charred Jamaican restaurant working out of food truck, plans to rebuild

Chef Jay John, owner of the destroyed Dat Fire Jerk Chicken, said he is confident in his ability to continue operating his restaurant as usual.

Credit: Caroline Silva

Credit: Caroline Silva

Chef Jay John, owner of the destroyed Dat Fire Jerk Chicken, said he is confident in his ability to continue operating his restaurant as usual.

Chef Jay John is unwilling to close the doors to his Jamaican restaurant in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.

Even if it means working out of a food truck in the parking lot of the burned-down business.

“I can’t wait to be able to at least get it cleaned up. Having to see the rubble every day is definitely emotionally difficult,” John told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday while waiting for his famous jerk chicken to finish grilling.

John, the owner of Dat Fire Jerk Chicken, recounted having to rush staff and customers out of the joint April 20 after a large fire started in the kitchen. He said one second he was grilling and the next second he was having to turn off the gas to the building located on Northside Drive, just down the street from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Countless personal belongings turned to ash, and he explained that it’s difficult to say if anything will be salvageable.

By the following Monday, John said he and his employees were back to serving the community out of the food truck they have owned for about two years. The restaurant is offering a limited number of meals every day, and John said they close after they sell out due to not having as much storage as he would like.

Even with the limitations, he’s not letting the fire become a setback for his business.

“If a busload of people pulls up, I want to make sure I have the food for them,” he said.

Community members have reached out to help the restaurant by sponsoring meals and donating to a GoFundMe campaign. John explained that all the money will be used for supplies needed to run the business out of the truck and the eventual rebuilding.

A fire broke out at Dat Fire Jerk Chicken on Northside Drive on April 20.

Credit: Ben Hendren

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Credit: Ben Hendren

The commercial lot was purchased in 2013 and Dat Fire Jerk Chicken welcomed its first customers in 2015.

John said his father, who is a retired chef living in Jamaica, helped him open the restaurant. He also expressed gratitude toward his parents, uncles and aunts, as well as his 103-year-old grandmother who taught him how to cook.

“All Caribbean people pretty much know how to cook,” he said with a laugh.

As a 2001 graduate of Clark Atlanta University, John said he is inspired by his alma mater’s motto, “I’ll Find a Way or Make One,” to continue business as usual and work toward rebuilding. He explained that it has been tough to go to work each day and see the charred remains of his restaurant, but he is looking forward to loading the rubble into a dumpster and starting over.

A timeline for construction has not been decided. John said he hopes to start cleaning up the site by the end of the week.

“The love and the support from the community has just been amazing,” he said. “But then you’re also dealing with loss and grief and sorrow and uncertainty.”