Photo Credit: Telie Woods
Midwest Restaurant Jerk Soul Opens New Location In Ghana
Owned by Telie Woods, the popular restaurant that opened in 2018 will be opening its new location in Accra, Ghana in February 2022. After almost five years serving the St. Louis community, Jerk Soul is spreading its wings and branching out internationally.
“I was really hoping and praying that I would be able to leave Jerk Soul in St. Louis as our original flagship because it quickly became a staple in the city, but isn’t looking like that’s going to happen,” Woods said.
A Southside Chicago native, Woods originally envisioned Jerk Soul as an international restaurant brand while he was living in St. Thomas. His plans were thwarted in 2017 when Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria ravaged the Virgin Islands and left him a refugee in Puerto Rico hoping the universe would lead him to his next destination.
“I didn’t really know where I was going. I didn’t even care. I just wanted to get back to the mainland at that point,” he said.
When a close friend booked him a ticket to fly to St. Louis on the last flight to leave the country before the Puerto Rican airport shut down, the Jerk Soul journey began in the Gateway to the Midwest.
“As soon as I got there, I realized there must’ve been a reason I was uprooted from the Virgin Islands and now back in the states, so I started to look around for restaurant spaces because I was thinking ‘Well, if it’s not in the Islands, maybe it’s here.’”
Woods opened Jerk Soul’s first location in north St. Louis City in March 2018 and, in the spring of 2019, relocated to Cherokee Street, a thriving business district in South City. The restaurant became an immediate favorite amongst the locals; landing a ton of organic publicity, winning a slew of awards, and charming the hearts of the public with their flavorful and authentic food.
“I think the people really gravitated towards our story of resilience of going through two hurricanes and going through COVID and really just still persevering and trucking along,” he said.
Despite the success in St. Louis, Woods began exploring the idea of going to Africa at the beginning of 2021 after watching YouTube videos about Black people who’d migrated back to Africa from around the world. After seeing infomercials of starving children in Africa as a child, Woods had been turned off by the idea of ever visiting or living on the continent. However, his perspective had changed and his heart felt led to return home.
“I’m just kind of being led,” he said. “You know, I didn’t choose St. Louis. I didn’t choose Africa. I’m just kind of being led…I’m just going with the flow of life.”
After talking to a friend about the progressive economy and business opportunities in Ghana, Woods did his research, sold all of his things, and relocated to Accra with a few bags and his dog.
“I looked into Ghana, and it was like a bridge presented itself and it just really opened up to me,” Woods said. “And six months later, I moved.”
The new Jerk Soul: Ghana will sit on the rooftop of the Oyarifa Mall in Accra. Guests will enjoy both indoor and outdoor seating with a panoramic view of the Aburi Mountains from all sides, as well as a full bar. Although a few dishes will change, about 80 percent of the restaurant’s menu will mimic that of the original location.
Unlike the St. Louis take-out only location, Jerk Soul: Ghana will include dine-in seating; an option Midwest locals begged for during their time in the States. With so many native and traditional food choices in Accra, Woods believes Jerk Soul will be a welcomed addition in the city, especially by Black people who have migrated back to Africa from their respective countries.
“This type of cuisine and fusion is not available here at all,” he said. “And so many people of the diaspora miss what they’re used to at home. They miss the macaroni and cheese, the cabbage, the greens, and sweet potatoes. They miss that stuff because the cuisine is different here.”
Living walking distance from Coast Cape where African slaves were taken captive and put on boats, Woods is amazed by the culture, heritage, and history that now surrounds him in Ghana. He hopes that Jerk Soul will become a part of that rich history filled with pain, triumph, and hope.
“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be living down the streets from the slave dungeons I was taken from 400 years ago,” he said.
Incorporating traditional Caribbean flavor with new age flair and recipes, Jerk Soul: Ghana hopes to bring a new wave of fusion-style restaurants to West Africa that brings a little taste of home to Accra.
“What I’m going to be able to bring is that nostalgic food that they are used to, and I think they’re going to love that,” he said. “I think that we will become the destination for the diaspora.”
With more than a few years of experience running Jerk Soul behind him, Woods plans to continue expanding the restaurant brand across the world and is unsure of where his journey will take him next. However, he does hope his migration back to Africa inspires other people of African descent to do so as well.
“What I would love is for more of us to really start to consider Africa a little bit more, and I believe that we are but we have a long way to go,” he said.