“The Jerk Joint” Brings Caribbean Cuisine to Appleton

    Jerk Joint cofounders Fay Oliver and Roderick Godwin. Photo by Robert Chappell.

    Seven years after opening Cozzy Corner, the popular soul food restaurant in Appleton, Tasha Banks was ready to grow. 

    The Jerk Joint first opened in Kaukauna as a test run.

    “Kaukauna was always my catering kitchen, and we were testing a concept over there,” Banks said in an interview Tuesday. “It went well.”

    It went well enough that Banks and her partners, Roderick Godwin and Fay Oliver, moved The Jerk Joint to its permanent location on College Avenue in Appleton and opened last Monday.

    Banks, who has made Cozzy Corner famous for traditional southern entrees like chicken and waffles, barbecue ribs and gumbo, is relying on the Carribbean side of her family’s heritage in her new venture. Her father, as well as her business partners in the new restaurant, all have roots in Trinidad.

    “I ate a lot of Caribbean food growing up” in Florida, Banks said. “It was kind of like the next best thing to what we already do in our homes anyway.”

    Godwin said the most popular items so far are the mango tacos and jerk chicken. Lunch entrees come with rice, red beans and a signature staple of Carribean food: rich, flavorful plantains.

    Jerk Yard Bird (chicken) with rice, beans and plantains is one of the most popular items on the Jerk Joint menu. Photo by Robert Chappell.

    “Most of the people are well-traveled, so they go on cruises and for the weekend, so they have the food. They just be looking for the taste again,” Godwin said.

    It’s a new venture for Oliver, who worked in the medical field for 20 years before shifting gears into the Carribean food business. 

    The restaurant business represented a career change for Banks, too, back in 2012.

    As we reported in January, Banks moved her family up to the Fox Cities from down south and pictured herself running a beauty salon and having her own daycare center. And, for a while, that’s what she did. But as the patrons in both of her places grew hungry, Banks found herself in the kitchen preparing meals using down-home recipes straight from the south. 

    “Obviously, I’m from the south and I used to own a beauty supply store here and I also owned a daycare too, and I always loved cooking,” said Banks, who was named one of the most influential Black leaders in Wisconsin last year. “I cooked for my customers and daycare parents and they all liked my food. While I was in beauty supply I had people wanting food like that. Wanting to go to restaurants and have soul food. So I was like ‘hey, what about opening a restaurant’?’”

    Customers said the restaurant captures the flavors of the islands.

    “The food here is actually great. It’s the only Caribbean spot around. They definitely do it right, I’ll tell you that,” said Willy Tucker, enjoying lunch with his wife Vanessa at the Jerk Joint for the second consecutive day. 

    “We’re from Connecticut, so we’re used to having a lot more options as far as different cultural foods,” said Vanessa Tucker, who notes that they regularly frequent Cozzy Corner as well.. “So, we’re really happy it opened up because now we’re able to get a different type of food in our area.”

    Even sitting in her brand-newly-opened restaurant, Banks is already thinking about what’s next.

    “You know my wheel’s always turning,” she says. “You can never count anything out with me. I’m always looking to grow. I don’t like to be stagnant, so definitely you will see more of the joints popping up.”

    The Jerk Joint, 1619 College Ave, is open 11:30 am – 8 pm weekdays, 11:30 am – midnight Friday and Saturday, and closed Sunday.