The Jacksonville family opens a traditional Caribbean restaurant

Lucia Stridiron loves feeding people, and she’s doing it in a new way with a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Jacksonville.

West Indian Kitchen started as a food truck in 2007 and has successfully fed Camp Lejeune Marines ever since. However, the Stridirons had been looking to bring Caribbean-style cuisine to Jacksonville as brick and mortar for some time, but the prices kept it from happening.

“The prices were exorbitant,” Lucia said. “Restaurant rent is crazy.”

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After a conversation last year with her pastor about the struggle, Lucia found the perfect location – 93 Western Boulevard Suite F. The location housed a Chinese restaurant, but the owner was willing to close the shop.

“We signed the lease in September, and then we were sorting it out, doing what needed to be done,” Lucia said. “We had a late hiccup on the road, and we just had to rearrange everything and bring everything up to code, so that’s where we are.”

West Indian Kitchen sells a variety of island dishes, according to Lucia’s husband William, who she says is the mastermind behind the operation. From oxtail to goat curry to jerk chicken, there’s something for everyone.

The Stridirons are from the Virgin Islands, and Lucia said William’s mother had a restaurant there in the 1970s with the same name. Lucia’s mother was also a chef at a school in the Virgin Islands, but her parents are Puerto Rican, hence the combination of Caribbean-style foods.

“When people look at West Indian Kitchen, they say ‘Oh yeah, an Indian restaurant,’ and we have to say West Indies is in the Caribbean, and that’s where we got the name from,” Lucia said. “You have a chain of islands that includes Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, all these little islands, they’re considered the Antilles.”

Although the Stridirons can’t cook food from every island in the chain, that’s where the inspiration came from, and William said the whole process was an adventure.

“We just had a special yesterday which was a salmon croquette, so we’re trying to do something different to bring our island neighbors here,” William said. “The most important thing is the authenticity of the whole thing is, you know you’re coming here to eat and you know you’re getting something authentic, not something canned.”

The Stridirons cook all the food from scratch every day.

West Indian Kitchen had a soft opening, but its grand opening was on July 29. Lucia said the comments were great and their Facebook page is full of positive reviews.

“We have a lot of Marines saying, ‘this tastes so close to my grandmother’ or ‘this brought me home’ instead of fast food,” Lucia said. “I love the kitchen. Sometimes we go there and we watch the Marines and how they eat the food and suck their fingers, and just to see people enjoying the food, that’s all for me, I like to feed people, I love cooking, my daughter also loves cooking.”

Speaking of the Stridiron’s daughter, Toni, she also designed the entire interior of the restaurant’s facade. From the green and gold colors to the refurbishing of the tables, she has done it all.

Lucia said the goal was to make it as intimate as possible, which is why they play music so regularly. The Stridirons said they play everything from Caribbean music to Spanish music and steelpan. She said people would come in and start dancing.

“Here in Jacksonville, we call it a melting pot,” Lucia said. “We have a diverse field. We’ve met people from all over, so people tend to go back to their culture and they’re looking for something of that nature. So I think with that, that’s what we bring . ”

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She said they have people who are afraid of oxtails all the time, but she always says not to pester them, but to taste them, because it ends up becoming a lot of their favorite foods. Oxtails, Lucia said, is the restaurant’s number one seller.

Although West Indian Kitchen is a big hit on the base, Lucia said they are still trying to spread the word about the new restaurant.

“Like any new place, I’m not going to be rushing every day, but on base, yes,” Lucia said. “What I love there, them, for me, are my children. Everyone calls me Mama Lucy. They come and they don’t even have to say what they want, I know what ‘they want. It’s like a personal relationship, you know your regulars’

For more information about West Indian Kitchen, visit their Facebook page or call 910-968-0069. Their opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Journalist Morgan Starling can be reached at [email protected].com

Michael M. Tomlin