Brothers James & Jason Mills bring Jamaican and Korean Fusion to Philly!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are the guys behind The Spicy Belly? My name's Jason, it's me and my brother James/Jimmy, he's the chef. We're the owners, we kind of developed the concept along with our general manager, EJ. We met up about a year ago, started forming up the concept from there. Everything comes from our family background, our heritage, as we come from a multi cultural family. Our mother is Korean and our dad is Jamaican. We're from New York City. We grew up with two traditional cuisines. And my brother Jimmy was really interested in cooking and it was something that he had a passion for in New York. So I brought him down here and now we have our own Brick & Mortar. So we're excited.
What attracted you to the Manayunk area? Well, I lived in Manayunk for about five years now. Philadelphia is a growing foodie sort of community. Manayunk is definitely a place that is very community driven. We took a lot of steps to be apart of the community in Manayunk. We participate in a lot of rallies, I coach a kids basketball team in Chestnut Hill. So we try to push and help out in all kind of areas. It's our first restaurant, so there's going to be some growing pains. We're very interested in working with the people and give them what they want. The people of Manayunk have been pretty excited so far. So we're excited about that.
How do you balance your cuisine with also actually giving people what they're accustomed to or want. Sometimes with restaurants in general, if you go too far away from your original idea/concept, then you lose yourself a little if you wonder too far away. I feel like it's a little bit easier for us to stay true to the concept because it's in our nature. This is what we grew up on. There's really no Jamaican Korean places around, so we can kind of develop what we want. We can play with the palates and do some playful things. It allows us to be creative. On our first menu, we didn't go super bold. In Jamaican cuisine, there's a lot more goat, a lot more oxtail. So we want to start this menu off with some familiar items but with our twist on it. Our tacos have our own twist on it. Our pork belly cubanos, they're something familiar to the average eater. We put our take on it and then maybe grow into the more creative stuff. Maybe play with octopus, squid dishes, other types of whole fish. Thats why we try to feature stripped bass for our fish tacos, a tilapia or a halibut. We want to try and give them something different. It's our take on a fish taco. We want to try and keep it creative and exciting. I kind of let my brother Jimmy and EJ (the general manager) mend their creative minds together and feel it out that way. EJ is of Korean descendant herself. She gives us a lot of extra ideas and makes sure that what we're doing on the Korean side is authentic.
What do you feel sets the Spicy Belly aside from other establishments within this area? Well, we want to make this a home for other people in Manayunk. There's a number of places in Manayunk from dive bars to wine bars. For the Manayunk people, we want to provide reasonable prices, bold flavors, we feature a good beer selection and we also feature local wines. We work with local wineries and stuff like that. So that's what makes us different. It's not about being a big business at this point. We want people to try different things that they haven't tried before. Whether it's wine, whether it's beer or food. So that's what we're shooting for.
What ingredients do you feel both Jamaican and Korean cuisines share? I guess not so much of an ingredient, but more so a flavor. It's kind of why we named it The Spicy Belly. Both have bold spicy flavors. They're very different, but they're sweet and spicy . For Jamaican, they got a lot of chili, a lot of scotch bonnet pepper and there's chilis from Korea. We try to play with a lot of different things and give you options that you normally wouldn't be eating in other places.
Were there any difficulties with brainstorming any dishes that you wanted to feature on the menu? Definitely, I think we had like 50-60 items on the menu when we first started the menu back in November. We were trying to cut it down and figure it out. One example was one of the Night Market events. We wanted to test what people liked. The pepper pot soup was one that we featured in the October Night Market and it sold out. People really took to the complexity of the soup. So we were like maybe we can take another step and give them a little more. The salt cod that we also featured, salt fish, those are very different. People were really drawn to it. So that kind of allowed us to mold the menu with some fun different items and get different feedback from different food festivals. We had some concerns with the whole fish. It's big and bold. A lot of people try the goat curry. That's also exotic. Those are some things that we laid out there to see if people wanted to try them. And people were definitely drawn to the more unique items. It's been a stepping stone as a way for us to push some more of the creative stuff for the future as we work through specials and stuff like that. So we're excited about that.
How important is it for you to use locally grown food/products? We try to feature as much as we can. We do feature a co-op in Chestnut Hill for some of our seitan and for some of our local produce. So we try to feature where we can. We're still growing, we're still trying to understand the best ways to do things. We're still a new business and trying to work out some of the logistics. We're still working on the communications with some of the local growers and stuff like that.
What's your personal favorite dish on the menu? It would be Des' curry shrimp. It was named after our mother, Desiree. So that's our mother's recipe. It's my favorite, it has the rice and peas. It's something we've always grown up on since we were 5-6 years old. So that's always been a family staple. So that was really exciting, mom was really excited that she had a dish on the menu. We didn't tell her, it was all a surprise. So she was very excited about it.
Do you think you will venture out and offer delivery services? Yes we want to do delivery. We do a lot of takeout here surprisingly. We get a lot of take out orders each night. But we definitely want to expand into that once we get a constant flow. And we also want to get into catering as well.
Your restaurant is new and up and coming. What do you hope to contribute to Philadelphia's growing food scene? We're a small place right now. We want to be in peoples minds and create an environment with fun food and a home environment. I think that's what some people in Philadelphia are looking for. Something different that tastes good and consistency. When I go out, that's what I'm looking for. Great quality and something a little more different than normal takeout. Maybe we'll be Spicy Belly 1 and then maybe there will be a Spicy Belly 2, maybe downtown. But right now, we're trying to make this a staple within the location and go from there. We've met a lot of people from different food festivals and made a lot of great connections. As time goes on, we want to be more up and coming. We're excited about everything. We have a lot of people coming in from all parts of the city. We're Jamaican and most Jamaican places aren't really a sit down establishment. They're more of a eat and go type of place. So we wanted to offer something different. There's a large Jamaican community in Philadelphia. We wanted to offer them somewhere to sit, hang out and enjoy. Same with the Korean community. We have some in Chestnut Hill, the Cheltenham area. We have soju, we have some rice wines that we feature in some of the drinks. So they can also see their same drinks but through a different aspect.