Toronto neighbourhood, Eglinton West, goes by the moniker, Little Jamaica, as far as Toronto neighbourhood monikers go. The colourful and vibrant strip is home to Judy’s Island Grill, a destination for undeniably authentic Caribbean cuisine. Offering everything from rotis and patties to whole steamed fish, the menu is surprisingly generous and down-to-earth, just like the owner of this breezy space.

judys island grill-whole snapper

And if you think the restaurant is named after its owner, you would be mistaken! On the contrary, Judy is actually an investor, the sister of Chef and Owner Sheryl. Furthermore, it is a true family business, her siblings are also restauranteurs. Judy owns four restaurants in the US, and another sister also operates an outfit in the UK.

“When I was a child, I was fascinated with food. My mom put me in the kitchen at the age of 9 for the first time. I executed the dishes perfectly, the neighbours were talking about it. You can throw anything at me in the kitchen and I’ll make it taste magnificent. Even if it’s something I don’t eat, I can cook it. That’s how I started. I get up day after day, getting here at 8 am, leaving at 9 or 10 pm at night. I go to church on Sundays, and right back here, 7 days a week. And I’m never tired. I love to do it. I have the energy!!”

Sheryl Bryan Phillips, Chef and Owner of Judy’s Island Grill

Tropical Tastes right in Toronto

Customers come as far as Ottawa to embrace her dishes, like her famous Jerk Chicken, for example, as well as Curry Goat and Oxtails. Spiced by hand, Sheryl seasons everything herself, by eye. “‘I give the same ingredients to staff and the measurements, although it’s not the same. My hands are my gift. I thank God. It’s my gift. Working in the kitchen with food,” says Sheryl.

Staff shortages and lack of qualified candidates are unquestionably throwing up roadblocks to growing her business. This echoes others in the hospitality industry, but here, add in a bloated Metrolinx project, and of course, there’s Covid.

While 2018 was her best year to date, it was short-lived with all the construction right on her doorstep. People told her to file for bankruptcy, but she couldn’t give up. Pleading with her sister to float her more money to keep the doors open was a daily stressor. She still owes her sister $5K, a loan she intends to have paid off by April.

And while Metrolinx has caused massive disruption to foot traffic, it’s not lost on Sheryl that it’s also keeping her doors open. Construction workers are her bread and butter these days, as is UberEats and Skip the Dishes orders.

Island Time

judys island grill-eglinton west

But once the dust finally settles, pedestrian traffic will be back and better than ever. And that energy will bring a whole new bright future to this historic part of the city. We can’t wait.

Show some love for Little Jamaica at your next event- contact Sheryl for catering, and of course order up on UberEats and Skip the Dishes. You can find Judy’s Island Grill at 1720 Eglinton Ave West. 647-348-1175 follow @judysislandgrilltoronto and stay up to date on new business openings, events and more by following @thelittlejamaica

Next month, stay tuned for more delicious finds on Eglinton West.

All images by Libby Roach.