Bringing Island spice to Cincinnati

After two years playing linebacker for the UC Bearcats' football team Leighton "Leo" Morgan decided that Caribbean food and Reggae Music were the best way for him to grab a slice of the American dream.

Five months ago he and his cousin Kirk Morgan, a Jamaican chef, opened Island Frydays Restaurant and Catering at 2826 Short Vine St. in Clifton. They serve Caribbean dishes like jerk chicken and curried goat with steamed vegetables, "reggae rice" and fried plantains. The meat is tender and the flavors authentic.  Most dishes are kept buffet-style to give patrons "good food fast," according to Leo Morgan.  Lunch specials are $5 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Both owners were born in Clarendon, Jamaica, and followed their own paths to Cincinnati. Leo moved as a teenager to stay with relatives in Connecticut before moving to Cincinnati.  Kirk was a chef for the major Jamaican chain Golden Crust in New York City before he got the call from Leo to come to Cincinnati.

Last week, Island Frydays’ Reggae Compilation #1 played in their dining room as aromas of scallion, pimiento, curry and scotch bonnet wafted from the kitchen. Leo, a Jamaican DJ, compiles and publishes the CDs himself.

"We keep the island vibes here - not just the food - but we try to bring everything to the table, the whole island experience," Leo said.

On one wall of their restaurant hang photos and biographies of Caribbean heroes, many of whom Leo and Kirk watched on television as children. Beneath them sits a brightly colored, hand-painted "Ludi" board - a popular game in Jamaica that is "like monopoly, but violent," Leo said.

A sign near the entryway heralding "Island Fryday's World Famous Jerk Chicken" suggests patrons will "taste the flavors of paradise." The slogans are part of Kirk and Leo's plan to expand, first with a carryout location in Cincinnati and then as a regional chain. Their hopes are fueled by patrons who travel from as far away as Dayton, Northern Kentucky and Indiana to find authentic Caribbean food. Members of Cincinnati's eclectic immigrant community come for dishes that remind them of home.

"We get African, Asian, and Indian customers because our meals tie in with a lot of different foods," Leo said.

Leo and Kirk have catered church and school fundraisers free of charge, and plan to start a Jamaican association in Cincinnati. They use Facebook and Google ads to get the word out, but Leo attributes their busy lunch and dinner hours to the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

"I mean, you tasted the food, right?" he said.

For more information call 513-498-0680 or visit their website

Writer: Henry Sweets
Source: Leighton & Kirk Morgan
Photography by Scott Beseler
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