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COOL BIZ: Irie Caribbean Cuisine - A Taste of the Islands

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The ethnic diversification that Canton has experienced over the past several years has also brought a welcome diversification of our dining options, and to this reporter’s flavor-seeking taste buds, none is more welcome than the menu offerings of Irie Caribbean Cuisine.  Located in the Cherry Plaza on Cherry Hill just west of Canton Center, Irie provides the authentic taste of Jamaican-style Island cuisine with a nod toward the palette and preferences of American appetites.  In my most recent visit to Irie, I was able to get the hard-working co-owner, chef and manager, Robert Campbell, to sit down for a few minutes to answer my questions.

.iTown:  We found this place about 8 months ago, and have been back several times since.  How long have you been open?

Robert: We opened in March 2006.

.iTown: Why did you choose Canton as the location of your restaurant?

I live in Canton, near here, and we like the community and thought what we offer would do well here.  We also thought people would come from Plymouth, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and other surrounding communities, and they have.  I work long hours, and my family is also involved, so it was important to be close to home.  I do wish we were more visible to all the people in Canton.

.iTown - How have the Canton and Plymouth communities responded?

Our guests that try us like us.  We have many, many loyal repeat customers, and they are now our friends.  Lindsey Hunter of the Pistons comes here often – so do many of the Lions.   When
somebody is here for the first time, we try to understand what they like, and how adventurous they are, and make recommendations to them.  Will your story get more people to try us?

.iTown -  We’ll sure try!  So you have made some adjustments to suit an American palette?

Some.  We really want the food to be authentic, but we can adjust the spices to suit our guest, and we love it when someone tells us they want it spicy.  We have also put our own twist on the cuisine. Our pasta dishes, for example – our chicken pasta and vegetable pasta dishes are American-style Caribbean cuisine, and our customers really like them.  Also, many Jamaican-style dishes feature bone-in meat preparation, but we know most Americans prefer boneless, so we have made other adjustments like that.

.iTown - What else do people like on your menu?

Everything!  We tried to figure out a way to reduce our menu offerings before, to make it a little easier on the kitchen, but when we brainstormed about it, we came up with more menu choices instead!  The kitchen staff really doesn’t mind - I have a very dedicated team.  Our jerk dishes are very popular, the pasta dishes I mentioned, and the escovitched dishes are also popular among people that try them.

.iTown - I have to admit I am not familiar with that last one…

Our escovitched dishes are either salmon or talapia that is lightly fried, and then simmered in a broth with spices, onions, peppers and a hint of vinegar and fresh thyme.

.iTown - So what gives the spicy dishes their kick?

Scotch Bonnet Peppers.  We go through about 14 pounds each month   They are very spicy, but also add great flavor.

.iTown - During my last visit here, I was told you were at the Olympics.  What event did you compete in?

I wish.  I was there to work, but it was an honor to be asked to go.  I was part of the hospitality team hired by the USOC through a catering company in New York - it was my fourth Olympics.  Only a few of us have been to more than two.

.iTown - So did you see any events?

We were free to do that on some mornings, and I did go, but when I was off, it was also just good to sleep! It really was a lot of work, and also a great experience.  I told my wife it was my last one, but she just laughed - and told me that I am addicted!

.iTown – She’s pretty understanding…

Very...I guess the spouse of a restaurant owner has to be.  She knows I really appreciate her - she helps out a lot around here too.

.iTown - OK, give us some names - who are the people that make Irie tick...

My partner Allan has helped make my dream of my own restaurant possible; my wife Michelle, for everything; our chef, Bryan, is the best; Becky, Chuck, Nicole, Samantha, Tara and Tracy - they are all great.  They are the ones that keep our customers coming back and making the restaurant successful.

.iTown - Besides your Olympics glory, you have some local awards you are proud of too.  What are they?

Our guests are from all over the metro-Detroit area, and we have had several awards from the Metro Times: Best Caribbean Cuisine of ’07 and ’08;  Best Dining for under $15, ’07;, Best Dining under $50...07'; and Best Local Chefs, awarded to Bryan and me.

.iTown - You still have that cool Jamaican accent.  How long have you been here?

17 years.  I came to the US when I was 21, and have been in the
hospitality/food industry since.

.iTown: Thanks Robert.  We hope the people reading this who haven’t tried Irie will come find out what is about.  You know I’ll be back!

Thank you for coming in - please tell people to check out
our website!

Irie provides dine-in, carry-out service and catering.  Irie Caribbean Cuisine is at 45580 Cherry Hill Road; Ph 734-844-8892; web www.irierestaurant.com

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