From the 876 to 216
Chef Omar grew up in a very rural part of Jamaica called Jackson Town in the parish of Trelawny. In Jamaica they say “up inna di hills”, which in a sense means hold on it’s going to be a bumpy and curvy ride up the winding narrow country roads! Even to this day, some homes do not have running water. “You would never know that some go without here [in Jamaica] because we appreciate what we do have rather than thinking of what we don’t.” It was this mentality that kept the young chef from not giving up on his dream.
Growing up around chefs back in Jamaica, McKay was always helping out in the kitchen. His mother took notice and taught him all the necessary information a great Jamaican chef would need. Wantinga better life for her budding chef son, she arranged for him to immigrate to the US as a teenager. McKay attended high school and then went on to culinary school to refine his passion in cooking. He successfully managed many kitchens for more than 15 years and has owned his own restaurants for the past 8 years.
Irie Akron is his third location of IJK and he has plans to continue spreading the Irie vibes across the state and beyond! McKay’s traditional recipes coupled tropical toppings are what make Irie what it istoday. The plates are flavorful, vibrant and marry a perfect blend of old school Jamaican tastes with fusion elements.
Based on their impressive social following, it’s a whole vibe and it’s caught on. “Jamaican food is evolving. A plate of bones with meat on it doesn’t automatically give a dish ‘Jamaican status’. We are taking those same flavors, minus the bone and burn your tongue off heat, to make a new Irie bite offood.” Not to worry, the house made ‘Fiyah Hot Sauce’ will not leave you wanting more. McKay laughs and says he will have his Green Card and birth certificate on hand for validity. “That’s authenticity too!”
Chef Omar has received several awards including the Silver Spoon award, Best Jamaican in Cleveland, & Best Take-Out. “When Covid first hit, we shut down for a couple of weeks just out of shock. We needed to regroup and figure out a plan.” McKay new he had to keep going. His dreams reminded him to focus on what he did have and that is a talent and a great product. “We pivoted to curbside pickup only.” He recalls Cars lining East 185th in Euclid. Orders were placed online or overthe phone. “There weredays my staff would walk 17,000 steps in a day!” When McKay cooks, people come!
Both stores in Euclid and Old Brooklyn began to operate under “the new normal” but never lost sight of community. He has volunteered his time at various special events including the army reserves station in Brookpark, spoke to community center groups, and has donated food to various organizations around Cleveland. “We like to give back to the communities we serve and employ residents.Community is important to me. Community is everything in Jamaica. Everybody knew everybody. And the best stories were heard at the local corner shop”. McKay reminisces of the shops as a young boy and when he visits. “Jamaican corner stores are like barbershops here. Guys get together, maybe have a drink and catch up on life.”
”I’m looking forward to bringing the Irie style to Akron. There is something for everyone. If you want tostick to a more traditional dish or mix it up. We are humbled and blessed for the IJK family and theircontinued support.
This new location is everything I could have asked for and more. The space was a blank canvas sowe were able to create the functionality for production in our fast-casual business model and make it visually appealing and exciting for guests. The vibe is relaxed, and full of island character. Everywhere you look has Jamaican culture, music, and of course food! The only thing missing is the beach!”