Blackwell Square Shopping Center made the news in September for Walmart to build and open a neighborhood food market in place of America's Thrift Store.
A slow drive by the storefronts of the 1980s-era plaza shows no sign of what is coming.
The current mix of corporate retail, independent businesses and empty windows sings a subtle call of opportunity to the entrepreneurial ear.
Three men heard and responded to the call eight months ago by opening Jerk Pan Restaurant in the flat economy of 2011.
Damion Palmer, Patrick Sutherland and Lloyd Gordon are hands-on partners in the 28-seat cafe with carryout and eat-in customers.
Gordon cooks and oversees the kitchen. Palmer takes charge of the front. Sutherland fills in the blanks.
"Jamaican cooking is learned at home," Palmer said. "We learn from our parents to be self-reliant."
Jamaican food features a lot of seasonings, marinades and love, Palmer said.
The $5.99 jerk chicken daily lunch special includes a drink. The meal is satisfying. Gordon uses his own jerk sauce recipe and cooks the "kicked-up" chicken in a way that makes it difficult not to suck the bones clean.
Rice with red beans, steamed cabbage mix and fried plantain fill out the plate with fresh, tropical flavors.
"Llyod has a passion for cooking," Palmer said. "You can taste it."
Work is shared by the partners and a contingent of generous family members. Marketing efforts include a sign spinner on Canton Road and social media.
Palmer, 28, answers Patch's questions.
Q. What's the best thing about your job?
A. Sitting down a plate of food for each person and later noticing that the conversation at the table has stopped because they're busy eating. I like to go in the back and show the guys just a knife and a fork on an empty plate.
Q. What is the best thing about Northeast Cobb?
A. The variety of people. The area is all mixed up with so many different ethnic groups. The three of us are from Jamaica. My family moved to New York when I was 6. I've lived in Woodstock since 2007.
Q. Why did you choose to open your business in Northeast Cobb?
A. This location was a Trinidadian restaurant, and we talked to the owner and she said she was closing. So we just walked into it. All the equipment was here, ready to go.
Q. Why did you pick this kind of business?
A. I've been in the restaurant business for 11 years. Always at a Jamaican restaurant. Every job that I've worked at, before opening this place, I started as a dishwasher. Every job, I left as the manager, and I left being able to go back. I love this business, and I love talking. I guess that's why I'm put in the front.
Q. What are some of the services you offer that people may not know about?
A. We hold events. We've got a private party scheduled for this weekend, and last week we had a wedding rehearsal dinner. We also hold customer appreciation parties where the food is free and we listen to music. We invite people when they come in and also through text messages.
Q. How did your business get started?
A. I was working at Golden Crust, a Jamaican restaurant on Barrett Parkway, and Llyod and Patrick were in the construction industry and looking for a change, Patrick invited me to join them, and we got this place, did a little remodeling ourselves and opened.
Q. Do you have advice for anyone who'd like to start a small business in this area?
A. Never open a business just to make a lot of money. You have to have a passion for what you are doing to keep you through the tough times.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
A. Come on in. When you are looking for authentic Jamaican food, come and see how daddy cooks it.
Jerk Pan Restaurant
3372 Canton Rd suite 120
Blackwell Square Shopping Center
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