Two people, one Caribbean food truck, and non-stop hustling

May 2nd, 2018  |  Published in New York Sits Down to Dinner, 2018, Uncategorized

Kellyann and J.Anthony Darrell have been together for 15 years. Photo: Aisha Hassan.

Between serving up plates of spicy Caribbean delicacies and raising three young children, Kellyann and J.Anthony Darrell are busy all the time. Add in daily hours of food preparation, consistent social media blasts, plus delivery or catering duties, and the married couple behind the Jerk Shack food truck in Staten Island have their hands full.

“My sister said we need a reality show,” Kellyann, 36, said. Even after selling out the 50 to 60 portions of food that J.Anthony, who is 38, cooks daily, the work begins again when the couple returns home, especially with a 10-month-old baby, a nine-year-old, and a 12-year-old to care for. “When we get back it’s like a tornado hit, with toys everywhere and dogs barking,” Kellyann said. “It’s like, ‘Please, let me go back into the food truck,’” she joked.

With such a hectic home and work environment, dinner is a time to relax. The couple take time to cook for the kids but usually order takeout for themselves, or take the family to restaurants if they have the time. But after preparing meals all day, J.Anthony said that consuming food or choosing what to eat isn’t really on his mind.

“The funny thing is, I’m just not that into food that way,” J.Anthony said over a plate of nachos he was sharing with his wife. Despite feeling “an affinity” for cooking, he doesn’t care too much for the actual eating.

“It’s true,” Kellyann said, with a vegetarian burger in hand. “I’m a total foodie, but if there was just a pill that [J.Anthony] could take instead of having to eat food, he would.”

They smile at each other as they eat together in a crowded restaurant without the children, a rare occasion since their youngest was born. Kellyann’s bright blue eyes contrast with the warm brown of J.Anthony’s, and they light up in laughter as he throws a handful of napkins at her. “You’re such a messy eater!” J.Anthony said with a chuckle.

They met almost 15 years ago in what J.Anthony called a “seedy bar” in Staten Island, the borough where Kellyann, who is of Italian and Irish heritage, was raised. J.Anthony, who grew up between New Jersey and Manhattan, and whose parents migrated from Guyana, said it was Kellyann’s “Staten Island accent” that drew him in. “That night we took a picture and I said I was going to marry her.”

Just two months later, the couple moved together to Houston, and continued to move around the country until Kellyann was pregnant with their first child. “My friends were flipping out on me, they were like you’re not leaving with this guy,” Kellyann said. They have been together ever since.

J.Anthony has been working in the food business since he was a 16, when he began helping out at a restaurant his mother, aunt, and cousin founded. Sister’s Cuisine, a Caribbean restaurant on 124th Street and Madison Ave. in Harlem is still there to this day, and the menu is the same as when J.Anthony started.

After finishing school, J.Anthony continued working in the restaurant business and later, for the Department of Education, before renting his first food truck in 2011. It wasn’t until 2016 that, after renting from others, J.Anthony finally bought a truck of his own. “It was the deal of a lifetime,” he said. A woman who J.Anthony says he calls “my angel,” sold him the truck for just a $5,000 downpayment, and let him pay the remaining $15,000 over time. With savings and a little help from his parents, the food truck dream was becoming real.

J.Anthony stands outside the rasta-inspired Jerk Shack truck. Photo: Kellyann Darrell.

It’s hard to miss the bright, tropical colors of the Jerk Shack food truck with “Authentic Caribbean Food” and “Vegan Friendly” emblazoned in red capital letters along the side. Most of the steady stream of customers have pre-ordered their meal via Instagram or phone. Kellyann constantly manages their social media presence, posting photos of special menu items each day and even changing the hashtags to match. Jerk Shack sells out almost every day.

“We have a loyal fan base,” J.Anthony said. “We even have people who will walk up, and we’ll already start making the food because we know what they like.”

Kellyann emphasizes the importance of the community they have built in Staten Island through the food truck, which has  led to personal connections. “We feel like our customers are our friends, honestly. I even invited some of them to my baby shower,” Kellyann said.

In 2016, Jerk Shack was recognized by the Vendy Awards, an annual competition that celebrates the best food vendors in New York, when it was nominated in the vegan category, new that year.  Despite not winning, the nomination is a major accolade in the street food world, and the Darrells hope that their bestselling jerk chicken – which has rave reviews online – will be recognized next.

Beyond the food truck’s usual location on the corner of Castleton Ave. and Taylor St. in Staten Island, the Darrells have recently begun branching out, experimenting with delivery services and  launching a website. Jerk Shack even offers catering, and their most significant event to date was for over 150 Delta staff members.

Even though the couple “flirted with the idea of a restaurant,” the flexibility of running a food truck business is something they are not willing to give up yet, especially with three young children. While J.Anthony’s mother is able to help out with the kids, the Darrells treasure the time that they can spend with them amidst the prepping, cooking, and marketing duties.

The future might not always be filled with food. J.Anthony, who believes in the law of attraction and who Kellyann describes as ambitious and driven,  plans to return to Guyana one day and take a look into the gold mining industry. But Kellyann doesn’t think they’ll have time to entertain that next big move until the last of their children go to college.

“Let’s talk about that in 18 years,” Kellyann said to her husband with a smile.


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