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Street Food Profiles: Get Jerked! in Northern California

"Get Jerked! combines the authenticity of the Caribbean flavors with the familiarity of dishes we all know and like—tacos, burritos and burgers."

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Veggie taco with black beans and diced plaintain. [Photographs: Get Jerked]

Name: Get Jerked!
Twitter: @getjerked
Vendor Names: Amira Jackmon

What's on the menu? Caribbean style tacos and sandwiches.

Location and hours? In and around the Bay Area in Northern California, primarily the East Bay in Oakland.

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How long have you been street fooding? I've had the truck since 2007 but had it leased out to a friend. I was laid off from my job in March of 2009 and decided to take the truck on full-time myself. I spent the summer doing repairs and upgrades to the truck and coming up with the Caribbean fusion concept. My partner and chef is a native of Trinidad who previously owned one of the first all-vegetarian Caribbean restaurants in Brooklyn, New York. We took the truck out for trial runs in November to December of 2009, but officially debuted this February.

How has Twitter affected business? It's nice to have a quickly visible way of seeing how people respond to the location of the truck. The better locations tend to generate more new followers.

Why a mobile business over brick-and-mortar? My partner swore off owning another restaurant in his life. I convinced him having a truck would be easier. Maybe I was a delivery gal in a past life—I think I've always had a thing for delivering food to people in a truck.

It could date back to my years growing up in Fresno where Napoleon, the fruit truck guy, would come through our neighborhood about once a week in his old red truck that looked like it was from another century, loaded down with fruit, nuts, dishes and everything imaginable. It's a wonder he made it anywhere in that truck.

He had a special horn or else played his music full blast to let people know he was on his way. No matter if my grandmother needed anything or not, she always made it out to the street to chat with him about the latest news and us kids were always excited to take a closer look at the truck to see exactly how it was holding everything in place.

Later, I had dreams of serving soft-serve ice cream from a truck (this was unheard of back then as the ice cream trucks in my hood only sold popsicles). I actually rode around for half a day when I was 15 or so with an ice cream truck guy. The drudgery of rolling around in a hot, old oil-fume-filled truck in the 101°F Fresno heat was a bit too much for me. Thank God for cool San Francisco bay summers.

Who are your typical customers? We've been popular with the college crowd. People who know a little about Jamaican culture and like the idea of trying something new.

Describe a typical day from start to finish. Prep in the kitchen all morning long, sell for three to four hours, clean up all night long, more prep!

What were you doing before this? Lawyer doing public finance in a law firm, all day and all night long.

What makes your food so special? Can anything else like it be found in the city? Nothing else like it. These are the only Caribbean style tacos you'll find anywhere, as far as I know. You can go to some large chains that will pretend to have one "jerk" flavored dish or another, but unless you go to a real Caribbean restaurant, none of them taste very authentic.

Unfortunately, a lot of Caribbean restaurants in the Bay Area of Northern California haven't survived for very long for one reason or another. I wanted to offer people a chance to try Caribbean food without fear. Get Jerked! combines the authenticity of the Caribbean flavors with the familiarity of dishes we all know and like—tacos, burritos and burgers.

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Fish taco with jerk fish, shredded cabbage, and mango.

How would you define "street food"? Food for the common man prepared by those who just want to make an honest days' living.

The best street food city and why. I can eat bake and shark in Maracas Bay, Trinidad all day long. It's basically a sandwich and there's this one little stand on the beach that's always packed. The bread is a fried puri-like bread that's sliced in half and served hot. The shark, well you really don't think about the fact that it's shark. And the variety of toppings—from fresh pineapple to cabbage and pickled cucumber—ahhh, the thought of it.

The fact that you're eating it in between taking dips in the sea and sunning in the warm Caribbean sun with the soul calypso beat in the background doesn't hurt either. It's actually the inspiration for the Get Jerked! fried fish sandwich. As much as I love our fish sandwich, however, even I have to admit that it does not compare.

Your comfort food after a long day? Chocolate.

Advice for an aspiring vendor? Three words: location, location, location.

Previously

HubBub Coffee Company in Philadelphia
The Frying Scotsman in Portland, Oregon
LIBA Falafel in the Bay Area
The Green Gringo in Boulder, Colorado
The Grilled Cheese Truck in Los Angeles

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