A longtime staple in the VCU dining scene is moving out of the neighborhood and east to downtown.
Jamaica House is relocating its restaurant at 1215 W. Broad St. to 416 W. Broad St. after purchasing the two-story building Feb. 15 for $515,000.
Owner Carena Ives, who opened Jamaica House at its current location in 1994, said the move wasn’t by choice.
She said her landlord, the VCU Real Estate Foundation, told her it was terminating Jamaica House’s lease and the restaurant needed to be out of the space in the coming months.
“We’ve been at that location for many years, not knowing when they were going to do anything with the property,” Ives said. “It’s bittersweet for us … we would have liked to stay at the location, but it’s time for us to move on.”
When Ives first established Jamaica House at its current location in the mid-1990s, there were few dining options in the area, and VCU was just beginning to catch its stride as a growing university.
“West Broad had some questionable areas back then,” Ives said. “But despite that, we were able to provide good food at an affordable price.”
A few years into the business, Ives purchased the building and eventually sold it to VCU in 2001 for $150,000, according to city property records.
As enrollment grew, VCU built the Grace & Broad dormitory complex around the restaurant years later.
“It just exploded,” Ives said. “That was good for business.”
Though the property is located along a stretch of West Broad Street that VCU has identified for more student housing and learning space, no site-development plan has been submitted to the city.
VCU Real Estate Foundation could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
General contractor is needed
Ives said they’re searching for a general contractor, which will need two to four months to complete its work. People can move in after that. The property most recently was home to retailer Master Bedrooms & More, which had been in business since 2011.
Annie O’Connor, a broker with Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer, represented Jamaica House during the transaction. Lory Markham and Ann Schweitzer Riley of One South Commercial represented the sellers.
Ives said she’s still creating a budget to renovate the 2,100 square feet of ground-floor commercial space in her new building, which also includes two apartments on the second level. Village Bank is providing the financing.
Jamaica House serves up Jamaican staples such as curry goat, oxtails, jerk chicken and cowfoot. Its sister restaurant – Carena’s Jamaican Grille – has been serving up similar fare in the Spring Rock Green shopping center in Chesterfield County for about 12 years.
The new downtown restaurant will seat 40 people, Ives said.
Leaving Jamaica House’s current location has been bittersweet for Ives, a Brooklyn native.
Having watched her restaurant grow at the location, she’s seen VCU students come and go, with some returning with their own families after graduation.
“It’s my baby, and I’m certainly going to miss being there,” Ives said. “There’s some high tension, high anxiety about this next phase, but we’re not going anywhere. We plan on being a part of the Richmond story.”