Reading, Pennsylvania now has an authentic Jamaican restaurant, the House of Jerk Dread or HOJD. The owner is Roger Watt, 40, who learned to cook early in his life. Before coming to Reading in 2003, Watt lived in Brooklyn, New York, moving there from Jamaica at the age of ten. Both of his parents worked outside the home, so they taught their children how to cook traditional Jamaican dishes.
His early experience prompted Watt’s interest in combining foods and flavors, and cooking for friends and family ultimately became a passion for him. In describing Jamaican jerk dishes, Watt noted the “rich, flavorful and addictive” elements of the good. Watt purchased a building that previously housed Cherry’s Jamaican Delight from his brother and started HOJD, h is first business.
Watt had done some grilling for his brother’s business, so combining his passion for blacksmithing and cooking, he started his venture with a staff of four. According to Jeanette Rivera, one of his employees, HOJD offers “authentic jerk-grilled barbecue.” Everything on the menu is cooked on charcoal and not in an oven.
The restaurant’s name is the same as Watt’s nickname: Jerk Dread. This refers to Jamaica’s jerk seasonings in combination with the fact that he wears his hair in dreadlocks. Customers at his brother’s restaurant gave him the nickname, and when he started his own business, he decided to use it as a brand.
The grilling elements used to cook foods at HOJD are contained in large tanks that were custom-built by hand by Watt, who is a welder by trade and used his experience passion for blacksmithing to create just the right cooking environment. Watt also designed and constructed the décor in the dining room, which is meant to resemble the Caribbean’s tropical huts. Watt used recycled materials in his 18-month-long renovation of the space.
HOJD’s current menu features jerk foods seasoned with pimento, cinnamon, sugar, garlic and other spices, as well as ten original sauces Watt has developed himself. Starters, sandwiches, and “high-grade jerk entrees” are also available.
Rivera, who takes pride in offering top quality customer service, relies on her experience in the banking and retail industries to take care of diners. According to Rivera, a specialty of HOJD is providing its customers with the luxury of enjoying grilled meats, regardless of season or weather.
Watt begins smoking the meats for the restaurant at 4 am every day. The motto of Watt and his staff is “Do what you love, and love what you do.”
In the few weeks that HOJD has been open to the public, its smoked chicken and shrimp tacos with peppers, cabbage, cheese and mango chunks have become a favorite among diners. The Weekend Special, which has included curry chicken and shrimp and whole red snapper is also popular.
Watt says his future plans for HODJ include catering, participating at pop-up markets throughout the city, and enlarging the menu to include curry goat and oxtail.