With Caribbean flair in tow, the Dawsons are coming to Dawsonville.
Derrick Dawson and his family are set to open the first African-American owned Caribbean restaurant in Dawson County in early 2020.
“We are a Caribbean family out of Brooklyn,” Dawson said. “We moved here from New York City and we basically worked hard in the catering business to build up the concept of having a brick and mortar. And now that we have it, it’s our mission to make sure it’s successful.”
Dawson has been passionate about cooking Jamaican cuisine since he was a young boy in his mother’s kitchen, and now his passion is taking root in Dawson County as he plans to unveil Dawson Jerk City USA in the former Taco Bell inside the old Kroger shopping center on Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53.
“We just got into the fair business about three years ago and it’s been really a tremendous opportunity for us because we have so many people that came around and decided that you guys needed to be here or there,” said Dawson.
In fact, it was at the Cumming Fairgrounds earlier this year when the vision of Dawson’s first restaurant would begin to take shape with the encouragement from Margaret Looney, a member of the Rotary Club of Dawson County, who fell in love with the family’s cuisine. She introduced Dawson to what would become the future site of Dawson Jerk City USA.
“It was her blessing that brought us to this facility here,” Dawson said.
The restaurant is located next to the Shell gas station on Ga. 400 and will feature sports memorabilia and Caribbean vibes to create a receptive atmosphere for the community.
“When you walk into Jerk City USA, you’re going to walk into the Caribbean,” Dawson said. “We just want to make it very, very open and inviting to the community.”
The menu will feature some traditional Jamaican and West Indies dishes like beef patties, curries, oxtails, seafood, and of course, jerk chicken.
“Our jerk chicken is probably the best chicken you’ll have across the continent,” said Dawson’s son, Darius, who graduated from South Forsyth High School.
“Our jerk spice is a little sweet but a lot of spice,” Dawson added.
Jerk chicken is a combination of dry and wet rubs featuring notes of picante pepper and covered in a homemade sauce that’s a Dawson family secret.
“It’s a nice spice, a nice pepper flavor and it’s charred, it’s a grilled flavor,” Dawson said. “It’s all a combination of barbecue but it’s a Caribbean version of barbecue.”
Dawson plans to run the restaurant with his wife, Anika, and children Darius, Kymani, Kristian and Taylor and hopes son Conner, 9, and Parker, 3, grow up in the family business.
Being part of preparing meals and helping in the kitchen has always been a familial and cultural tradition for the Dawsons.
“My mother is originally from Jamaica and at age 8, I used to just be her sous chef in the kitchen which means I used to clean up behind everything. Then one day she said to me do I want to learn how to fry fish,” Dawson said.
“We’ve been cooking forever,” Darius said. “Since I’ve been born I’ve been in the kitchen watching them cook, getting yelled at for wanting to cook too much.”
The passion for cooking turned into a successful catering business that has allowed the Dawsons to open their dream restaurant in scenic north Georgia, choosing Dawson County as their flagship restaurant.
“We decided we wanted to start some place where there’s nothing — meaning no other Caribbean business — so when we got the opportunity for Dawsonville we thought it was a win especially since our last name is Dawson,” Dawson said. “God is good. It’s just true testament of the hard work we’ve been putting in over the years. My wife and I have been working hard on developing different menu items and different concepts of exciting people’s taste buds.”
Dawson is gearing up to open Dawson Jerk City USA on Feb. 15, 2020. It will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays serving a New York style breakfast and Caribbean lunch and dinner.
“We’re a Christian-based family and we believe a day of worship is important so we take our Sunday off,” Dawson said.
Story by Dawson County staff writer Jessica Taylor.