MOTOR ROW — Jamaica Jerk Villa plans to return to the South Loop despite losing its business to a fire late last year.
The Caribbean restaurant serving jerk chicken and fish has signed a lease at 2216 S. Michigan Ave., according to building owner Windy City RE LLC. Jerk Villa is applying for a liquor license and plans to open the new Motor Row restaurant this summer.
The new lease comes quickly after an extra-alarm fire claimed Jerk Villa and other Cermak Road businesses on New Year's Eve. In an interview, Jerk Villa co-owner and Jamaica native Peter McKnight said there was little time to waste.
"There’s a lot of demand in the South Loop," McKnight said. "We didn’t want the customers to go nowhere, so we just moved ahead."
The restaurant is the second for Jerk Villa, which also runs a restaurant in Auburn Gresham. The menu includes a jerk chicken combo for $8.99, a five-piece catfish meal for $8.49, and jerk or grilled lobster for $19.99. Jerk is a spice rub native to Jamaica.
"Whatever you get from the islands is what we sell," McKnight said.
Jerk Villa's new location is the latest business commitment in the South Loop's Motor Row district, a rapidly changing neighborhood thanks to public improvements and private investment. City officials particularly eye the district, a stretch of South Michigan Avenue once lined with auto showrooms, as an up-and-coming entertainment district near McCormick Place. The city further stacked its chips in the area by opening a new Green Line Station at Cermak Road and State Street earlier this month.
Investors, including Windy City, have taken notice and returned the favor by buying up empty storefronts in the area. Some of them, including the new Jerk Villa space and 2000 S. Wabash Ave., now have tenants.
"We see that a lot of people are putting in a lot of money into the neighborhood," Windy City Managing Partner Joshua Rubenstein said. "It's exciting to be a part of that process."
A representative of Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) told residents Tuesday night that the alderman has met with the owner of the burnt-out buildings on Cermak and suggested a new restaurant or other retail take its place, but no plans or building permits have been submitted yet.
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