The Hayles family has a vision: making Jamaican jerk food a top choice among ethnic cuisine. If their flavorful menu and energetic approach to business are any indication, they’ll have no problem fulfilling that mission.
In addition to enthusiasm and great food, they also bring family traditions and experience to the table. Ashford Hayles’ mother, Ms. Ena, opened Ena’s Caribbean Kitchen in 1999 in Columbus, Ohio. With his wife Alicia, Ashford brought her Jamaican jerk flavors to southern Ohio to open a restaurant and then a food truck, Just Jerks. Ashford and Alicia shared this experience with us for our series, My Experience… Food Truck Exclusive. In this Q&A, they talked to us about the heritage of their menu, along with the ups and downs of operating a food truck.
Food Truck Exclusive: Q&A with Ashford and Alicia Hayles from Just Jerks
You came from the restaurant business. Tell us about developing your menu and making that transition to a food truck.
Alicia: “Our menu has developed through the help of my mother-in-law Miss Ena and my brother-in-law Marlon Hayles. It’s family recipes that have been developed and fine tuned over the years.”
Ashford: “The transition was actually pretty easy. The restaurant gave us a fixed location as to where we would be and the demanded hours, whereas the food truck helped us have a more flexible schedule. We got to visit different places and enjoy the company of other people who weren’t able to come to the brick and mortar. The transition happened suddenly in September 2014, however we were well received by the community with the offering of the new green truck and the bright bold colors of our yellow logo. The colors of the food truck are also the colors of the Jamaican flag.”
Alicia: “We decided for a bright, vibrant green so everyone would see us. We went for a yellow pepper in a running motion because jerk is made from Scotch bonnet pepper.”
What is your favorite aspect of the food truck business?
Alicia: “One of our favorite aspects is just being flexible and being able to go to different events and bring our jerk to the people.”
Ashford: “And meet other food truck vendors. Especially at the festivals. We get to trade food and enjoy the festivities.”
But it’s not always fun, right? Tell us what challenges you’ve faced.
Alicia: “It’s pretty challenging. A lot of people don’t realize how much work is involved. They see the window that we’re serving and think that is all it entails. But there’s a lot of prep that goes in beforehand and after and cleaning. So it’s a lot more time than it appears to be.”
Ashford: “Preparation and logistics is the really the biggest challenge in the food truck.”
What kind of food do you serve and what is your most popular item?
Alicia: “We serve jerk chicken, jerk shrimp and jerk beef brisket. We serve it over Jamaican rice and beans, tacos or sliders. Our most popular dish is our Jerk chicken rice box. The rice box has Jamaican rice and beans and you can add Carribean slaw. We do a specialty box with added sautéed mushrooms, onions, provolone cheese and a smoky aioli sauce. We also have an island rice box where we add fresh mango salsa.”
Ashford: “The way we do our jerk, everything is marinated for 24 hours. Once the marinade has set is when we begin to grill our food. From there, the chicken is tender enough to be pulled.”
What is a piece of advice (or two) you could share with someone thinking about starting a food truck?
Ashford: “Be prepared to work. It’s a labor-intensive job. Ninety percent of your time is spent preparing food or scheduling. You have to get your logistics in order to execute effectively.
“You want to have the right equipment. If you want to get into the food truck industry, your menu drives your layout. With that being said, you have to have the right equipment on board because once it’s on, it’s fixed. It doesn’t move, and to upgrade your equipment is going to really set you back considering the lead time to get new equipment on, installation and then checked by the health department. So, the planning of your layout of your equipment is the biggest and most costly decision-making process.”
How to find Just Jerks