Opening a restaurant during a pandemic might seem like a wild idea for some, but that didn’t stop Carena Ives.
Her new, larger version of Jamaica House at 416 W. Broad St. downtown is just a half-mile from the original location. Instead of a tiny four-table shop across from the Siegel Center, customers will now enjoy a freshly constructed 14-table restaurant with additional menu items.
“I’m really looking forward to our longtime customers and our new customers coming in and seeing our space and understanding that, you know, we created this space for them,” Ives said.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the restaurant owner to push back the opening date from March to September. Ives had set her eyes on the new location in early 2019. She wanted to stay near Virginia Commonwealth University but also sought more space.
“I knew I needed to make sure we would have a home and we could continue to do the things we’ve been doing for the last 26 years,” Ives said.
Ives, who is originally from Jamaica, came to Richmond by way of Brooklyn, N.Y. She planned to pursue a degree at VCU but found herself pregnant and thrown into the workforce. She opened Jamaica House in 1994 and Carena’s Jamaican Grille on Midlothian Turnpike in 2007.
Ives admits to being overconfident in starting her first restaurant, relying on her experience working at a similar restaurant in Brooklyn. Her mother, Flora “Flo” Thompson, set the standard for the recipes at Jamaica House.
“I had no business doing it, to be fair, because I knew nothing. I learned a lot,” Ives said.
At the new restaurant, customers can now pair their favorite Jamaican dish with a draft or bottled beer, or a glass of wine. Ives said the restaurant is working on obtaining a liquor license to offer cocktails.
The restaurant offers Jamaican classics such as oxtail, curry goat and freshly baked coco bread. Her mother’s touch allowed Ives to serve authentic dishes.
New menu items also are slated for the restaurant, including Appleton Estate rum-glazed baby back ribs, spicy jerk chicken wings, and salmon in coconut curry sauce. The restaurant also will feature a vegan option — a stewed curry chickpea and butternut squash bowl.
“We’ve been supported by Richmond for a long, long time and this is our way of saying thank you,” Ives said. “[Customers] deserve a space that is beautiful and well done and comfortable.”
The restaurant is set to open at 11 a.m. Tuesday.