By: Dean Bossenbroek
Our visit to Jamerica on Willy Street to hear Martin Deacon talk about his business was on a beautiful, frontdoor-flung-open afternoon in late July. Martin was waiting for us at the raised table looking out the large window. He was wearing shades, and if he were a cat, he would’ve been purring contentedly in the splash of sun coming into his restaurant.
Clients John and Jesse introduced themselves to Martin, as did co-tour guides, Sergio and Anthony. We gathered around a table, and listened to Martin describe the arc of his working life since the late ‘70s. He worked for the University for many years. When he decided to move on from his state job, he decided Madison could use a place, where plenty of jerk seasoning was on the menu. His first restaurant venture was a collaboration with a local barbecue sauce maven, and was called Jamaica JoMama’s. According to Martin that “business relationship evaporated after about one year.”
I initially met Martin in 1989, when I bartended at Mother’s Pub on the 1300 block of Willy Street. He was an easy, undemanding, good-tipping customer. A couple of years after Mother’s Pub closed, Jamaica JoMama’s opened in the same location. My wife-to-be, Kira, and I both worked for Martin and JoMama in 1994-’95. During our recent Thinking Outside the Big Box Tour stop, Martin informed the boys that Kira was the one who suggested back then that he add jerk tofu dishes to the menu to satisfy the vegetarian sector of Madison restaurant goers. They were a hit and those dishes remain on Jamerica’s menu to this day.
In the middle of our talk, we ordered food. John ordered jambalaya. Jesse ordered something called Mountain Boy Stir Fry. John, whose father happens to be from Jamaica, ended up loving his jambalaya, and ordered a second helping to go. Jesse didn’t quite understand what he was ordering, and was disappointed that his stir fry was rice and beans adorned with sautéed cabbage, onion, and carrots. He ate it, and conceded that it tasted pretty good, but he felt it was lacking – he’d been expecting some sort of meat in it, in spite of the fact that it was listed in the vegetarian section of the menu. We used this as a learning opportunity of when to ask clarifying questions about stuff.
While we ate, Jesse asked Martin if he knew Bob Marley, you know, because everybody from Jamaica must have known Bob Marley. Well, in this case that is the truth. Martin laughed and talked about playing soccer with Bob, when they were young. He spoke of the respect Bob got from everyone in his hometown and the surrounding areas. Even after he was world famous and driving the most expensive cars on the island, the people treated the superstar as the local guy named Bob. Martin then launched into my favorite Bob Marley story, which many of you longtime readers may remember from Thinking Outside the Big Box Tour reports from years past.
Martin recounted how he was invited backstage during intermission of a Bob Marley and the Wailers concert at the Dane County Coliseum in 1979. As one might imagine, there was some ganja smoking taking place as Bob presided over an adoring throng of groupies, musicians, and hangers on. Martin described to Jesse and John, “when the cigar came around to me I said, ‘oh, no thanks. I don’t smoke marijuana.’”
This was met with disbelief by those in attendance in 1979 (and the teens at Jamerica two weeks ago). In spite of peer pressure from the most famous pot smoker on the planet, Martin calmly and repeatedly declined to partake of the weed. This did not sit well with Bob, who got it in his head that Martin must have become a police informant since their days playing soccer back home, so he kicked Martin out of the backstage gathering. During the second half of the show, Martin got right up front, made eye contact with and grinned at Bob, while skanking to the legend’s rasta infused soul music.
Talk about a natural teaching moment about being true to oneself and not succumbing to what other people think one should or should not do! Thank you, Martin!