Marlon Robinson dreamed of owning a restaurant that honored his Jamaican and Caribbean heritage for two decades, and in November of 2020, he opened The Eats 876 Modern Caribbean Grill in the Tarpon River neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His menu featured Bahamian macaroni and cheese with shrimp and scallops, a Caesar salad with Caribbean chicken, and his own version of Trinidad-style calypso chicken wings. However, six weeks after opening, Robinson found he was required under law to add a second restroom in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He had to shut down until he complied.
As the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in frustrating delays waiting for plumbing parts and increased costs for the entire project, Robinson considered giving up altogether, but ultimately left his position as food service director at a senior living company to focus all his attention on his restaurant and Eats 876 reopened for business on June 9, 2021.
Robinson already had a fan base of customers who frequented the food truck he purchased in 2018. After spending eight months rebuilding and refurbishing the vehicle, it opened in January of 2019. He took his food truck to local events in Fort Lauderdale. The experience gave Robinson the time he needed to test his fusion concept of cooking, which involves using Caribbean herbs, spices, and sauces to flavor dishes that are familiar to Americans. For example, a steak at Eats 876 is prepared with green bell peppers, red peppers, and jerk seasoning.
Robinson told Jamaicans.com ” I was raised by my grandaunt who essentially raised us since my maternal grandmother passed away when my mom was only 8 years old. I watched grandaunt make authentic Jamaican meals for our family. On the flip side, my paternal grandmother who lived in New York would share her American-inspired cooking on her countless visits to Jamaica. This rich cultural exposure inspired a love of foods that brought together different worlds on a single plate. Eats 876 represents this fusion of different worlds I was fortunate to have lived, while at all times celebrating the savory, delicious, and authentic taste of Jamaican flavors.”
Robinson’s new restaurant, which is located next to a Publix market and is close to the Broward County Judicial Complex, features a variety of specials ranging from Sunshine Shrimp to Curry Chicken to various Jerk dishes to chicken or salmon wraps. Side dishes on offer include festival, or deep-fried bread, and coconut rice, which is rice cooked in coconut milk with kidney beans. The dining room can seat 74 customers. There is a small kitchen on the premises, and the food truck is currently used as a back-up. The decor at Eats 876 is described as “industrial chic” and features unfinished, rough-hewn wooden slats and a pallet of neutral gray colors with blue lighting. There are low couches and banquettes available.
Robinson was born in Jamaica and moved to Lauderdale Manors in Florida at age 11. During his childhood in Jamaica, he sought ways to make money and eventually began making and selling homemade ice cream. This experience led him to dream of a future in the culinary arts. As an adult, he became a food service director for various senior living facilities throughout the US, traveling a lot and checking out the regional foods. He always wanted to be an entrepreneur, he said, but knew he had to take his vision and put in the effort to make it happen. He says his dream was born in the remote area of St. Elizabeth in Jamaica; “It was on that dusty road in Jamaica…that’s where it started, me sitting there and dreaming.”
Photo: Marlon Robinson