Reggae Flava, a food truck that has provided traditional Jamaican meals for Tuscaloosa locals for the past year, will be setting up shop in Downtown Tuscaloosa. The permanent restaurant, which will exist in addition to the food truck, is scheduled to open in April.
Reggae Flava, a hard-to-miss, bright-colored kitchen on wheels, serves authentic Jamaican dishes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends – if you make it there before they sell out. After a little over a year of success on Tuscaloosa’s streets, owner Romeo Tomlinson is preparing to open a brick-and-mortar location in Downtown Tuscaloosa.
Reggae Flava started in 2017 when Tomlinson and his family decided to take their catering business onto the road. However, the food truck’s origins begin in Jamaica.
“My dad is a preacher, so my mom used to cook for churches a lot in Jamaica at fellowships,” Tomlinson said. “Her food got so popular, and every month she would be cooking for a new church.”
Tomlison and his family moved to Virginia in 2000, and Tomlinson met his wife while serving in Iraq in 2005. It was Tomlinson’s wife’s vision for Reggae Flava to become a restaurant, but it didn’t come soon enough.
“My wife passed away about 6 months ago from cancer,” Tomlison said. “She didn’t even get to see [the restaurant].”
The couple started a catering business, selling plates out of their house in Virginia. Tomlinson said that the business struggled at first, and that offices and businesses were hesitant to buy food straight from his house.
Eventually, the catering business took off, and it branched off into the Reggae Flava food truck that it is today. Tomlinson said that over two years, he and his family operated the truck in over 10 cities in Maryland and Virginia before moving to Tuscaloosa in 2019.
The move to Tuscaloosa turned out to be a good one for the business, thanks to the lack of competition from other food trucks. Tomlinson said that Maryland and Virginia were dense with food trucks.
Other external factors make the job difficult as well. Rain and cold can drive away customers, the generator or propane can fail, and according to Tomlinson, some are hesitant to eat at food trucks due to stigmas about unclean or unsanitary conditions, and bad food.
Abby Dennis, a junior majoring in management information systems and English, works at the Gampy’s food truck on campus. She said that cleanliness isn’t a concern for her when she is eating at food trucks.
“I know I keep our trucks really clean, so I like to assume that other people keep their trucks as clean as I do,” Dennis said.
While Reggae Flava doesn’t have an on-campus presence, William Susa, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, says that the truck’s Jamaican dishes are unparalleled in Tuscaloosa.
“I enjoyed the food,” Susa said. “It has a lot of unique spices and flavors, and there’s nothing else like it in Tuscaloosa.”
Reggae Flava’s permanent location will serve many of the same dishes as the food truck, but will feature a more expansive menu.
“The truck only fits so much food,” Tomlinson said. “But in the restaurant, we will probably have 20 different dishes, like Jamaican crab legs, jerk lobster, jerk shrimp, soups and salads.”
The new restaurant, on track to open in early April, will be located in Temerson Square in Downtown Tuscaloosa. Tomlinson and his family will continue to operate as a unit – he’ll maintain the business end of the restaurant while his family continues to create traditional Jamaican dishes “with love.”
“I don’t cook,” Tomlinson said. “I just do the business side, and that’s my passion. My mom, uncle and auntie do all the cooking. That’s their passion. They cook with love and pay attention to detail.”