At Eastham’s Brickhouse restaurant, American cuisine served with a Jamaican touch

EASTHAM – When Cliff Harvey arrived on Cape Cod in 2006, he brought with him his dreams, his passion for cooking and his Jamaican origins.

Cliff, who co-owns the Brickhouse restaurant in Eastham with his wife, Amelia Kisna-Harvey, was born and raised on the Caribbean island and spent hours with his mother, Juliet, in the kitchen learning to cook. By his side, he discovered the spices that bring heat and flavor to food, using chili and ginger, garlic and green onions, thyme and curry to spice up the flavors of the meat, fish and vegetables. He learned the process: how long to marinate and cook, how finely to grind a seed or spice, and what portion sizes to add together in homemade rubs.

“I was always in the kitchen with my mom,” he said. “I developed a love for cooking.

This love of food and cooking brought him to America, but it wasn’t the only thing that drew him to the sandy shores of Cape Town. He dreamed of building a better future here.

Amelia, who was also born in Jamaica, moved to the United States with her family after high school. She studied to become a medical assistant and first worked for a primary care physician. But his ties to Jamaica were strong enough to draw him often to the island.

“I would go back and forth to see Cliff,” she said.

Cliff’s job search led him to Provincetown, where he worked at two restaurants. In February 2018, the couple closed on the property where the Brickhouse is now located. They spent months renovating the building, cleaning, painting the walls and staining a wooden ceiling. They installed new panels and trim boards. Friends and family have helped. They opened their doors to the public on May 11, 2018.

Can you tell me what is unique about your restaurant?

Cliff: The restaurant serves American cuisine with a Jamaican twist. We removed the heat from the food, but improved the flavor. The Caribbean style curry is darker than most American diners are used to, with a richer flavor.

Amelie : There are many cultures in Jamaica including Chinese, Indian, Spanish, but the combination always comes from Jamaica.

Menu offerings include Caribbean-style curry, jerk salmon with mango-avocado salsa, coconut shrimp, and orange rum scallops. Burgers are made with jerk seasoning, but can be ordered without. The barbecue sauce and jerk seasoning are homemade and the serving of ingredients are specific and exclusive. They include different peppers, salt, chili seeds, ginger, onion, garlic, thyme, shallots, and other herbs and spices.

Cliff: Everyone knows or thinks jerk is hot. We want to change the whole aspect of the heat so that people can taste the rich flavors. It is not to deceive the whole culture. I want to promote culture. I want to improve the culture, so that more people can try our jerk and enjoy it rather than having their mouths on fire.

How has COVID-19 affected your restaurant?

Cliff: We had to lay off workers. We didn’t want to, but we had to. Amelia and I took on extra hours and responsibilities. We were able to keep the menu the same though. We haven’t cut any of it.

Amelie : The tables are spread over the 2,000 square foot space. There are no stools at the bar. Our take out business grew by around 30%. A band played on weekend evenings. It’s brought people in, but we can’t do it now. A separate room that once hosted weddings, showers and birthdays is not available with COVID-19.

How many employees do you have?

Cliff: During a busy summer season, we had about 50 employees. We must have gone down to 3pm when COVID-19 hit.

What were you doing before opening the restaurant?

Amelie : I was in the medical field, with no experience in catering. I have used what I have learned in the medical field to help me with customer service. Medical training has taught me to be calm, to be empathetic, to approach people and to see how they are doing.

Cliff: I worked three jobs in two restaurants.

Amelie : We had experienced staff, but I didn’t know what to expect. I had to learn on my own. It was hard. I studied the menu. I observed employees. I went to other restaurants to see how they approached people, how they greeted customers. Some were good and some were bad. I try to put my own influence on it. For me, hands-on learning helps.

Cliff knows the food. I manage. I took accounting courses and have administrative experience. Together we make a good team.

What advice would you give to someone starting a business?

Cliff: Be prepared to devote hours to it. We worked hard and saved. It’s very stressful when you spend a lot of money and nothing comes in. We had no source of income from February to May, but we were prepared for that time.

Amelie : You have to want it and work for it. If you are not prepared to work hard to achieve your goal, you might be a failure, but if you put the work in place, nothing can stop you.

What do you think was essential for this particular company?

Cliff: Finding the right location for the restaurant was key. We wanted something between Orleans and Provincetown. We had a good commercial real estate agent. It is ideal to have a knowledgeable person. He helped me find a plan to afford this location.

Amelie : Cliff had mentioned the rental. But with our ideas, we thought it best to have it as our own. We decided to buy. He (the building) was under contract. We started looking elsewhere. When the deal wasn’t done, we bought it.

Does your business have a lot of competition?

Cliff: We knew we would be doing something different from anyone else, so it didn’t matter where we were. We wanted to bring it closer to where we live.

What are your plans for the future?

Cliff: We want to develop our outdoor seating. We are thinking of building some sort of shelter so that people can eat outside. We are thinking of getting heat lamps.

Amelie : I want to be successful no matter what we decide, to be on the same page together. Our plan was to work for ourselves, not for someone else. For us, that means more freedom.

Who are your core customers?

Cliff: Summer and year-round residents, excursionists and locals.

Any recipe or menu secrets you can share?

Amelie : The jerk and plantain flavored shrimp are a favorite. People love coconut shrimp because of the large coconut flakes. The scallops with orange rum are very popular.

Cliff: Rum cake is my mom’s recipe. The Brickhouse punch is popular. If you want to try an authentic rum punch, you can get it here.

Contact Denise Coffey at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.

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