You might know Christopher Grant locally for his popular Jamaican jerk chicken. Beneath the banner C+G Jerk, he pops up at sporting events, festivals, and private parties throughout Jefferson County and beyond, and also holds down a three-day spot at Black Dog Coffee Company in Shenandoah Junction (WV), Wednesday through Friday.
If you really know Chris, you remember when he was a retail entrepreneur in Martinsburg and Hagerstown in the nineties, and then owned a couple of restaurants—and basically, the guy was hard to keep up with.
Grant arrived in the U.S. from Jamaica at age nine by request of his father. “I came here for an education and started navigating America pretty quickly,” he said. “It wasn’t long before I was trying to carve out my version of the American dream.”
His early business endeavors comprise what Grant now refers to as his first chapter in America. “I worked it very hard, but just couldn’t get ahead. So eventually, it was time to get out.”
Grant, who grew up around fresh Jamaican food and lots of cooking, transitioned to restaurants. In 2004, he’d purchased a restaurant for his mother in Jamaica, and eventually brought the concept to Hagerstown. “I basically taught myself the restaurant business,” he recalled. “I was burning up rice and trying to get my recipes right. I’d gauge my success on whether Jamaicans would eat my food. I was constantly calling my mother for advice.”
Eventually, Jamaicans started coming in. “I spent a lot of time in that restaurant; I learned how to catch my own mistakes,” he emphasized. “And then word began to spread; the public started to notice.”
Self-taught and -refined, Grant opened up another restaurant in Jamaica, and then a Bed & Breakfast (which he still operates today). He even paused and put himself through school to better hone his ever-active entrepreneurial brain.
But it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t fulfilled, and was spread too thin. “I wanted to brand a company, but I needed the right product,” he said. “It was a long road—I knew how to grind and make money—but my life lacked purpose and simplicity.”
In 2009, he went back home to Jamaica to find perspective. “I started farming in Jamaica,” he explained. “I’d sold my restaurant in Hagerstown, but I still wasn’t living for me. So I moved to a little place with one bedroom on a farm. I used the bathroom in the bushes. I started digging in the dirt. Built a chicken coop out of sticks. I had to cleanse myself, and shut the door on my previous life.”
He also found God on the farm. “I had the wrong concept; it wasn’t about money. I knew how to make money. But all of those things had led to this—a life I didn’t want. It wasn’t my purpose. I let my creator take control.”
Then one day in 2013, he got a visit from a local man who offered to buy some of his remaining restaurant equipment and some material items. “I had peppers, carrots in the ground, tomatoes,” he said. The guy buys some of my stuff for five hundred fifty dollars American. The next morning, I went to the airport and bought a ticket. Remember, I’ve been in Jamaica for nearly four years straight at this point. I’ve lost touch with everyone in America.”
A Second Chance
Oddly enough, Grant was taken in by Mennonites in the Hagerstown area. “I worked amongst them for forty dollars a week. I started reconnecting with folks in the area—new folks, people that had connections and would help me in this new chapter.”
His friend eventually asked him what he wanted to do with his life one day at lunch. Grant didn’t have an answer. So his friend, who owned an automotive shop in Hagerstown, gave him $500 and said, “Start jerking chicken in front of the shop on Friday.”
Grant remembered, “So I set up his grill, bought a bunch of fake chickens at Sam’s Club, seasoned them up, and everybody who was buying parts from the auto shop was buying chicken too.”
A familiar pattern emerged: word spread. “I got another gig in front of a bondsman’s shop across from the police department—more people, better traffic—and then I met a Jamaican guy who owned another auto shop. I set up shop the next day in his parking lot.”
Grant finally had his breakthrough moment in 2015 one afternoon while driving, when he noticed a sign for the Bonanza Extravaganza at Hagerstown Speedway. “I called them up and got into the festival. I set up in front of ten thousand people. From that day forward, I found my method, my formula. My process.”
Grant then connected with the Irie Wine, Beer, Blues & Reggae Festival in Martinsburg—a true test, as it was a mostly Jamaican crowd. “I had six jerk chicken stands beside me; they had chicken, cabbage, rice, and beans. I had one product (also something I’ve learned along the way: find one thing and stick to it). You couldn’t see the end of my line of people. Everyone wanted my chicken. This proved to me that I had something special. I realized I wasn’t selling jerk chicken; I was selling Jamaica.”
Fast forward to 2017. C+G Jerk Chicken gained productive ground by early this year. Grant is now a regular at area festivals and sporting events (including Shepherd University football games). And fans of his product have gotten used to his reliable spot at Black Dog Coffee.
He sources all of his chicken from his old Mennonite friends in Hagerstown. “As organic as it gets,” he confirmed. And he only uses two seasonings, which he sources straight from Jamaica. The other exclusive ingredient, which separates his chicken from everyone else’s and serves as the cornerstone to this second chapter for Grant, is the sauce—C+G Jerk Jamaican Love Sauce to be exact.
“My seasonings are made in the community back home—no chemicals—and combined with the sauce, it’s why people keep coming back,” he affirmed. “Folks also don’t realize the work I put into that meat before it hits the grill. The love. I work those ingredients in until my shoulder muscles are sore, and then it marinates in the sauce all night.”
As it happened, Grant’s eventual mentor, and connection into the sauce game, literally returned to Black Dog Coffee one day earlier this year after simply smelling the chicken on a previous visit. The two hit it off, and the man, who was in the sauce market, offered Grant his card—later helping him to not only quantify his business, but learn to scale up, and bring his product to market.
Grant started bottling his Jamaican Love Sauce this summer—with the first run selling in August. Not surprisingly, it’s a hit. “The Love Sauce is the product that emerged from the chicken,” he said. “The chicken isn’t going anywhere; people love it—I’ll always do the chicken. But the sauce is the next level—the productive future of this company. We sold 100 cases of sauce and gained twenty-two accounts in less than four weeks.”
As far as the future? “The next sauce will be called ‘Upbeat’—the spicy addition. We’ll take it up a beat, and do it all with love,” he assured. “Everything I do in this second chapter is driven by love.”
C+G Jerk Jamaican Love Sauce is currently in locations throughout the region, including but not limited to: The Source, the Mecklenburg Inn, and Blue Moon in Shepherdstown; A Step in Time (Harpers Ferry); all three Black Dog Coffee Company locations; Bushel & Peck, in Charles Town; Murphy’s Beer and Wine (Virginia); and La Bodega, Penn Avenue Meats, JRJ Liquor, and El Eden International Grocery (Maryland).
For more information, visit C+G Jerk Authentic Jamaican Chicken on Facebook.