First came soccer. Colin Russell and Rex Scott came to Jefferson City from Jamaica to play the beautiful game at Lincoln University, and even after college, kickabouts became a staple of each week, a Saturday night tradition.
And a staple of every kickabout was Russell and Scott setting up a grill after.
“We would start grilling and having a few beers,” Russell says. “And then we realized people were coming and wanting us to share.”
Russell and Scott, who have been friends since grade school, were cooking to fill a need, at first. Unable to find Caribbean cuisine in mid-Missouri, they started making it for themselves.
It wasn’t long until they were making it for other people, too.
Some started bringing hunks of meat to be cooked, and Scott says their post-soccer grilling turned into “a block party.”
To gauge interest, they set up a tent during Homecoming. They ran out of food in a couple of hours.“We were like, ‘People really like this stuff,’” Russell says. “It just went on from there.”
They started the Jamaican Jerk Hut food truck in 2005 and opened their first brick-and-mortar location, primarily for takeout, in Columbia in the spring of 2018. In February, they expanded once again, opening a second, larger restaurant in Jefferson City.
Scott says the restaurants feel like part of the quintessential Jamaican experience.
“The vibe is no-frills — very, very relaxed,” he says. “Which is indicative of the kind of the way typical Jamaicans carry themselves. It’s not pretentious — you get what you get. It’s not fine dining. We like to have people come into the restaurant for the food, but we also like to impart some of our lives so that they leave with a little.”
And while most of their customer base are Americans broadening their palates, Jamaican Jerk Hut fills the need that Russell and Scott had in their college days. The taste of the Caribbean is the taste of home for some customers.
“They really appreciate it,” Russell says. “It’s somewhere they can come and we can share languages and laugh and joke. Just seeing that makes them feel proud.”
One source of pride is the restaurant’s jerk chicken, a Jamaican classic. Russell says most customers like to group the dish with rice and potato salad — and a glass of Jamaican Jerk Hut’s Rasta Lemonade.
Scott is coy when discussing the beverage’s secret ingredient. “I like to tell people that I only know two ingredients and (Russell) knows the rest — water and sugar,” Scott jokes.
Outside of their restaurants and food trucks, Russell and Scott find ways to stay connected to the way their business began: evenings of soccer.
Scott says he still plays twice a week while Russell is working his way back into the sport. Both are fans of Liverpool, the defending European champions who are atop the English Premier League standings as the league prepares to resume play.
“We’re about to take that title,” Russell says while talking about his favorite team.
He and Scott know a thing or two about winning trophies. Even though soccer and cooking have switched positions of prominence in their lives since the days of cookouts after the final whistle, their over-40 team won its league last year.
Between a food truck, two restaurants and that soccer league championship, Russell and Scott know how to make their hobbies successful. Maybe they have a secret ingredient for that, too.