The name for Jerk Machine Inc., Desmond and Catherine Malcolm’s south Florida chain of restaurants, came about because of Desmond’s hard work. Long before the restaurant’s birth, Desmond operated a part-time catering business in Toronto. A customer placed a large order, and Desmond’s indefatigable efforts to fill it prompted an astonished, appreciative comment from his wife. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, Desi, you’re like a damn jerk machine!'” recalls Catherine, the founder’s spouse and company vice president.
The name stuck, and so did the couple’s tenacious passion to make their idea more than a dream.
Desmond, 41, fine-tuned his mastery of jerk cooking–a Jamaican creation in which heavily spiced chicken or pork is slowly cooked over burning wood and charcoal-at his catering business in Toronto, where he and Catherine had migrated in the 1970s. They catered their own wedding in 1983, and soon began catering the weddings of friends and co-workers.
Business flourished and didn’t slack off even during the cold Canadian winters. Desmond often found himself cooking outdoors, which prompted thoughts of relocating to a warmer climate more akin to Jamaica’s. The couple moved to the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, area in 1988, where Desmond landed a job with a local bottler. After a few months, it seemed as though the time had come to turn his part-time Canadian venture into a full-time American business.
With about $65,000 from a second mortgage on their home, the Malcolms leased mall space in Lauderhill, a Ft. Lauderdale enclave of predominantly Caribbean immigrants. After doing most of the building themselves, they opened the first Jerk Machine restaurant in December 1989. They sold out of food on the first day of business.
In 1992, Jerk Machine Miami came online, followed four years later by the opening of restaurants in Sunrise and Hollywood (Florida), and then two more in Miami. The one in Hollywood is operated by a franchisee.
The company has about 70 employees, and revenues were $2 million last year. Today, with projected 1998 revenues of $2.8 million, Jerk Machine has found success serving jerk and other Caribbean cuisine to a cross section of southern Floridians.
“I think we have an excellent product,” says Catherine, 39. “We’re consistent. We’re clean. We’re customer-friendly.”
This past summer, one new restaurant and one on tap to reopen were under construction, bringing their total to seven. These two new operations will mark the end of the company’s internal expansion because of the time-consuming nature of managing a chain. But in the future, the couple would like to see a relationship between Jerk Machine and a company With the resources to franchise the concept on a national and international level. Because of the company’s success in non-ethnic locales, the Malcolms are confident that their concept will prove profitable outside of Florida.
Jerk Machine Inc., 4261 NW 12th St., Lauderhill, FL 33313; 954-452-6050