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JamRock Cultural Restaurant plans move to Duluth

The Caribbean eatery is soon relocating from Superior to the former home of Doc Witherspoon's Soul Food Shack.

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Owner and chef Tony O'Neil plans to relocate JamRock Cultural Restaurant from Superior to the former home of Doc Witherspoon's Soul Food Shack in Duluth.
Contributed / Joe Polecheck
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DULUTH — JamRock Cultural Restaurant bid farewell to Superior on Nov. 17 after nearly two years of serving Caribbean cuisine to the community. Owner Antonio "Tony" O'Neil recently announced plans for its relocation back to Duluth, where it all began.

In 2019, O'Neil first started serving Jamaican food on a mobile grill outside the Spurs on First bar at 109 W. First St. in Duluth. During the pandemic, O'Neil got a food permit and moved his business to Superior, where he began selling food two days a week from his home.

After eviction, he moved to a commercial kitchen at the Superior Business Center for two weeks. Then, JamRock formed a partnership with Average Joe’s Pub, 1310 N. Fifth St., to serve Jamaican dishes out of the bar’s commercial kitchen.

Chef Tony O'Neil has been serving up his signature JamRock Cultural Restaurant dishes for months from different locations.

In early 2021, JamRock moved to its own building at 1901 Tower Ave,. Superior, the former location of the Pak’s Green Corner restaurant.

As JamRock evolved, O’Neil set out to find a new location that offered a prep kitchen; professional equipment with a splitting door to separate kitchen staff from public and front house; and seating room for customers.

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After much searching, O'Neil said he found an affordable space to rent with a lot of potential at 319 W. First St., formerly home to Doc Witherspoon's Soul Food Shack.

Tacos Tacos Tacos, UpDawg and Doc Witherspoon's Soul Food Shack are three new dining options.

Before JamRock reopens in the new location, the building's leaking pipes and ceiling tiles will be replaced. The hooded stove awaits a new motor to be delivered, and a deep clean of the kitchen is underway. The existing murals will be covered and dining plates and silverware will be ordered.

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A new mural by Taylor Rose is painted at JamRock Cultural Restaurant's new location in Duluth.
Contributed / Tony O'Neil

"We are very close to being done. Equipment and items are starting to come in and we are drawing closer to our soft-opening day," O'Neil said.

The hours will be listed on jamrockculturalrestaurant.com. Once open, there will be a self-serve buffet Tuesdays through Fridays for lunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., then dinner from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. It will be open Saturdays noon to 9 p.m.

JamRock's GoFundMe page seeks donations for its new business venture, with a goal to raise $15,000. As of Monday morning, the fundraiser reached $4,640 from 156 donors.

"I would like to share my passion and experiences through really good food and plating styles with the community. I’ve put my all into this brand and hope it continues to be well received," said O'Neil.

O'Neil prides himself in being an active community member, often cooking for people without homes and for The Ruth House in Superior; donating jackets; coaching Denfeld High School football; and mentoring children on and off the field.

"I stem from a proud family of Jamaicans and Panamanians all who came to the states to become doctors, nurses, professors and teachers," he said. "Hard work is all I saw coming up as a youth, which is why I go so hard in this community trying to change mindsets of others who inspire to be great daily."

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JamRock Cultural Restaurant's jerk shrimp and grits.
Melinda Lavine / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

O'Neil's grandparents owned a restaurant in Jamaica before the family moved to Florida, where he was born. Raised in Jamaica, O'Neil has been cooking with his grandparents since childhood and learned to cook authentic cuisine from his grandmother. He became a certified chef with the American Culinary Federation.

"It’s how I stay so connected to my grandmother, who I lost in 2022. Not a day ever goes past where a smell or spice or taste doesn’t turn into a flashback of her showing me how much or how little it takes to change a dish dramatically. Love her with my all," O'Neil said.

It has not been an easy journey as a BIPOC business owner to start a restaurant, said O'Neil, who explained the biases and stereotypes that have been directed at him.

Over 100 minority-owned restaurants, retail shops, services and organizations are included.

"Everything I do is 10 times harder than the other owners, be it business credit, events in the Twin Ports. If I’m not wearing multiple hats pushing and breaking down doors, it simply will not happen," O'Neil said. "I’m not the average mom-and-pop diner or corporate locations who have protocols. Real is rare and the energy given will get returned always."

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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