Chef Wayne Sharpe
Kevan Burke had seen the success of fast-casual businesses in nearly every cuisine, from the Mexican bowls of Chipotle to the layered salads of Sweetgreen. He couldn’t help but notice a significant void in the market — one that was deeply personal to him. Growing up in Jamaica, Burke developed a passion for helping his mother cook the island’s classic dishes.
When a friend approached Burke with the idea to start a Jamaican restaurant, he said, “The only way I would do this concept is if Wayne would be a part of it.” Wayne Sharpe, a long-time friend of Burke, had made a name for himself in the Atlanta dining scene. The Native Jamaican chef had founded and led Escovitchez in Atlanta, a premier fine-dining Jamaican restaurant.
The two friends first met when Wayne catered the food at a mutual friend’s birthday dinner. Burke, impressed by the rich flavors, asked to meet the event’s chef and was introduced to Sharpe on the spot. The best friends-turned-business partners were excited to collaborate on Jrk!, a restaurant they knew would bring innovation and fresh flavors to Miami.
Burke and Sharpe hit the ground running, building the brand and menu. After hosting a successful tasting, the co-founders found a home for their new venture at Aventura Mall’s Treats Food Hall.
“I knew the food was going to be amazing. When it comes to Wayne’s food, everyone who has ever had it has been like ‘wow’,” shares Burke. While they anticipated success, they didn’t expect the gigantic flurry of excitement that took place during Jrk!’s opening week. “The reception was overwhelming at the mall,” says Burke, “We’ve just been running and running non-stop.”
Lines of customers gather daily at the vibrant counter to try Sharpe’s signature jerk chicken, oxtail, curry, and pepper steak. Burke, being a vegan, also ensured that the menu features a plant-based jerk option as well as vegan-friendly bases and side dishes. “We continue to work to refine it [our plant-based jerk] and make it better,” says Burke.
Authenticity is key to Sharpe, who has never strayed from the layered process of Jamaican cooking. “I don’t short-change ingredients of procedure,” says Sharpe. “The general consensus is that Jamaican food cannot be done from start to finish because the process is so long,” Sharpe explains. The most popular dish on the menu, Jrk!’s jerk chicken, takes around three hours to make daily.
“I knew that great food has to be done fresh every day, and I have to find a way to bring that together,” says Sharpe. “I knew I was never going to water down the quality of the food to appease anybody,” he continues.
Anyone who knows anything about Jamaican food knows the dish has a reputation for being spicy. Sharpe was initially nervous about bringing heavily spiced food, something he’s developed a taste for growing up in Jamaica, to the Miami location. “People told me you can’t make it as spicy as you do in Jamaica,” said Sharpe. Trusting his gut, Sharpe kept his menu as spicy and authentic as he would in the Caribbean. “Would you know that our jerk chicken is our number one seller?” he mused. Other menu items perform well, but Burke notes that they aren’t in the same ballpark as Jrk!’s classic jerk chicken.
“People love the spicy chicken, you know, so we’re happy that we never toned the spices down,” he says. Sharpe also makes unique sauces like the jerk BBQ for diners who prefer sweetness over spice.
People have fallen in love with more than just Jrk!’s food. Chef Sharpe has become quite the local celebrity in Aventura Mall and notes that he often gets recognized by shoppers during his off time.
“People find us, and they call and say thank you so much. We so enjoy it,” beams Sharpe. He also finds that the staff at Aventura Mall’s many boutiques have become frequent dinners and supporters. “Our repeat customers are off the chain,” he says.
From the vibrant colors to the smooth service, Jrk! is an experience. Burke and Sharpe play lively Jamaican music and encourage their team to dance along while inspiring guests to do the same. “I think one of the things that people look forward to is the efficiency. When you come in, it takes five minutes to move through our line,” says Sharpe.
“There’s a friendliness and an atmosphere — we want to [provide] a taste of Jamaica,” says Burke.
For diners who have yet to try Jrk!, Sharpe has a simple message: “Just come, relax, and be ready to experience the island of Jamaica.”
Experience Jrk! for yourself at Treats Food Hall, located on the Third Level. Plan your visit or call 305-974-2480 for more information.