Top Taste, a small Jamaican eatery hidden away on a side street in Midtown, Kingston, New York, about 90 miles north of Manhattan, has received a nomination for a prestigious James Beard culinary award. The husband-and-wife owners, Albert and Malenda Bartley, have been nominated for the “Best Chef in New York State” award. The Bartleys, who do everything at the restaurant together, including the cooking, specialize in providing “authentic Jamaican cuisine” like jerk chicken, oxtail, curry goat, and coconut rum cake. Both the Bartleys learned to cook from family members on their home island of Jamaica. Albert learned from his grandmother, while Malenda was taught by her mother.
Running the restaurant is a second career for Albert Bartley who worked for over 30 years at a chemical firm. After he retired, he moved to Kingston, New York, from the Bronx. Malenda had worked for more than two decades in the restaurant business at chain eateries in Atlanta. The couple met, got married, and settled in Kingston, buying the building that houses Top Taste. They currently live above the restaurant.
Top Taste opened for business in 2015 and can seat 15 customers inside and more at three tables outside. Take-our represents about 75 percent of their business, but they do not have partnerships with any third-party delivery services as they don’t operate in upstate New York.
Top Taste opened in February 2015. It accommodates 15 patrons inside and also has three outside tables that seat an additional dozen customers. About two-thirds of its business stems from take-out, but it doesn’t have partnerships with any of the nationwide third-party delivery services, which don’t operate upstate. When they first opened, they offered a $5 coupon to spread the word and then used articles in the local paper as well as a feature article in Bon Appetit magazine to publicize the eatery.
As the restaurant is just a block from Kingston Hospital it attracts many of the hospital’s workers, but it also has customers from city hall, firemen, social workers, and students from Kingston High School who stop by after classes for snacks. The Bartleys modified the amount of scotch bonnet pepper they include in their jerk chicken to accommodate American tastes, but the couple stated they do not dilute any flavors.
Top Taste has seen an increase in business over the years as the city has gentrified, with its population increased by ex-residents of New York City. The eatery has seen a considerable amount of foot traffic, which is good for its cash flow, Albert noted. And with the nomination for the James Beard Award, new customers who are interested in trying authentic Jamaican cuisine are finding their way to Top Taste. The restaurant has also gained very good reviews from customers on Yelp, which has helped boost business as well.
As a result of their growing revenue, the couple plans to hire more staff and perhaps move to Woodstock, which has more restaurants.