Published in Food/Agribusiness
Vincent Mcintosh, founder of Irie Kitchen. Vincent Mcintosh, founder of Irie Kitchen. COURTESY PHOTO

Irie Kitchen rebounds after COVID-19 shutdown, vandalism

BY Sunday, July 05, 2020 10:32am

 

GAINES TOWNSHIP — Irie Kitchen LLC recently reopened for takeout, and proved it has a large base of support after raising more than $100,000 following vandalism in early June.

The authentic Jamaican restaurant south of M-6 was still closed due to the pandemic at the time of the vandalism on June 3. Owner Vincent Mcintosh discovered shattered windows in the restaurant, but the cause of the vandalism is still unknown. Mcintosh said he filed a police report on the incident, and previously told MiBiz the restaurant was “basically targeted.”

One of Mcintosh’s loyal customers and friends set up a GoFundMe in response to the incident, which garnered 2,800 donations totaling $106,705 — including a $5,000 donation from Food Network chef Ree Drummond.

“We have a cult-like following in the area, but we got donations from not only local people, but from all over, it was crazy,” Mcintosh said.

In addition to the financial support from the online fundraiser — which will help cover lost profits since Irie closed in mid-March — the GoFundMe was also good exposure, attracting attention from contributors who had never heard of the restaurant, Mcintosh said.

“The first weekend (after the vandalism) we sold out of food in two days,” Mcintosh said. “It’s been great. I want to know if it will continue or if we’re just the flavor of the week, but the last few weekends it’s been busy, so that’s been great.”

Irie Kitchen has successfully reopened, but Mcintosh is working with a smaller crew than he is used to. Irie Kitchen also prides itself on authentic Jamaican dishes using organic, fresh ingredients, which have been a struggle to adequately source amid the pandemic.

To stay open and maintain Irie’s reputation for providing authentic food, Mcintosh raised prices, simplified the menu and temporarily reduced hours to just weekends.

“The goal was to give people the ability to get organic food as cheaply as possible,” he said. “I wanted to give people healthy food, even if it was just something they could afford occasionally as a treat. But if I wanted my business to stay around, I had to raise the prices.”

The restaurant is “definitely breaking even,” Mcintosh said, but his goal is not to try to turn a huge profit during the pandemic. The restaurateur said Irie Kitchen will only be operating on the weekends through at least the end of the summer.

“As long as I can pay my staff and pay the bills, I’m happy with that — there is a pandemic going on right now,” he said. “COVID-19 has completely changed everything. We were always a clean restaurant before this and did a lot of takeout anyway, but with the new rules, it adds costs and we’re operating with a completely new system.”

Irie Kitchen’s three-year anniversary since opening is July 24. Mcintosh opened the restaurant when he was 19, but struggled to find space for his business closer to downtown Grand Rapids. 

“Landowners and building owners in the city didn’t really believe in me, so I opened up in Caledonia more to prove a point,” he said. “People weren’t taking me seriously.”

Mcintosh said extra pressure comes with being a Black business owner, and instead of being labeled as a good business, his restaurant is sometimes reduced to just being a Black-owned business, he said. However, in the light of global protests of racial injustice and police brutality against people of color, there is a movement to lift up and support Black-owned businesses like Irie Kitchen. 

“We run a good business, period,” Mcintosh said. “But it’s great that people are being intentional; we all need that support. In times like this, I am very proud of Grand Rapids for the support they’re showing.”

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