As magical as the clear mountains, brisk winds, and powdery snow of Colorado can be, it is also nice to experience the comfortable warmth of island life.
Stepping into the Spice Island Grill, a family-owned Jamaican restaurant just six minutes off campus, immediately transports you out of Colorado Springs. Light green and orange adobe walls create a warm and comfortable atmosphere in the main room of the restaurant, while a more dim, green-lit dining room area sits on the other side. The walls are covered in Jamaican pictures, trinkets, and Bob Marley posters, and smooth reggae music fills the entire space. For seating, customers are given the option of quaint little wooden tables and chairs or a booth option with benches and cushions set up in the dug-out spaces within the adobe structure.
I asked Tiggy Hutchinson, a waitress and the daughter of the restaurant’s owners, what makes the Spice Island Grill so unique. “Family,” she replied. “Not just the fact that family works here, but we always try to make every customer that comes in here feel like family. We try to let them know, ‘Hey it’s island time: relax, hang out.’ We try to get to know their stories a little bit, to get to know their background, make sure they get rum punch, you know. We always try to make them feel welcome here. And because we’re small, we can do that.”
Claudette and Glenroy Hutchinson, owners of the Spice Island Grill, are both originally from Jamaica, but moved to the United States at a relatively young age. Claudette moved to New York at age 14, where she was raised by her mother before joining the U.S. Air Force. Claudette has now been retired for 24 years. “She retired and said she was ready to travel the world and do things,” said Tiggy. “And then six months later, she opened a business; so there you go. Yep, plans got squashed, but it’s okay. It’s been a blessing for us.”
Claudette and Glenroy co-own the restaurant, and all of the staff that works there are also members of the family. Tiggy, her sister, and her brother work mostly with the floor service, while their uncle works as the chef in the back. Their grandmother “is the little one running around with the braids, and my other grandma is sitting on the couch,” explained Tiggy. The Spice Island Grill has been open for six years now, successfully running as a complete family business. And like Tiggy mentioned, being a customer comes with a feeling of being part of the family too.
The Spice Island Grill is a restaurant with a unique time commitment; island time is not like Colorado time. Two hours feels like an appropriate amount of time to spend there. Not only does this span of time come with individually prepared meals, but also the casual and timeless attitudes of the staff working there. An impatient, especially hungry, or rushed customer would feel frustrated here, but the restaurant reminds us that dining is supposed to be a slow and shared experience.
Unlike in most restaurants, as a customer there is no feeling of urgency to pay the bill or to make space for incoming customers. Instead, you genuinely feel like the staff wants you to be there and to take your sweet, sweet time.
And you better believe the food is worth the wait. Many of the spices and ingredients used in the food on their menu is sourced from Jamaica. “My grandmother, we call her our spice mule,” Tiggy said. “She goes to Jamaica, brings all the spices—the pimento, the scotch bonnet pepper—brings it down so we can blend it up and have it for our spices. We send her and she handles all of that.”
Nowhere else in Colorado have I experienced the pleasure of those unique spices mixed with sautéed vegetables that dress a full red snapper fish. Many are turned off by the idea of seafood in Colorado, but the quality, taste, and tenderness of it caused me to immediately disregard any previous suspicion.
Goat is another treat unique to their menu, and it tasted fresh. People also speak highly of the curry chicken, the spice of the jerk chicken, and oxtail soup “because that is something unique,” Tiggy noted. “[It] falls off the bone. It’s very tender, good gravy on there, not spicy, mild options too.”
“I like that it’s clearly popular and pretty successful but off the beaten path,” said senior Jules Feeney. “They don’t need the visibility to legitimize their food. The architecture style is like southwestern and the decorations are these flags with Bob Marley’s face on them, which are like a college cliché, but none of that matters because the people are the friendliest and the food is so, so good. I can’t remember the last time I had such good food, except the time I ate there before.”
Good food and a good atmosphere are not enough to name a good restaurant. Too often we forget the importance of feeling comfortable and at home while enjoying a dining experience. The Spice Island Grill stands as an honest, familiar, and quality restaurant choice; the island really has it all.