Carena’s Jamaican Grille is inviting friends and fans to a feast on Saturday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. to say goodbye to the old building (guests are asked to RSVP via Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org). The restaurant will reopen in several months, she promises.
The rebuilding project is part of a makeover for the Spring Rock Green shopping center on Midlothian Turnpike, home to Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College (as well as Dollar Tree, Sports Zone, Shoe City and a Rainbow clothing shop).
To make it consistent with the shopping center’s redesign, the new Carena’s building (which the restaurant will share with a retail tenant) won’t have the neon sign or the signature coral and blue exterior color scheme or murals. It will, however, have a colorful outdoor patio with umbrellas to give it a tropical feel, Ives says. She plans to reopen in January.
In the meantime, Ives will continue to operate Jamaica House, which she opened at 1215 W. Broad St. in 1994, and she plans to set up a food truck at the Carena’s site in Chesterfield County on Fridays from noon to 8 p.m., starting Sept. 8. It will have some of the restaurant’s signature curries, oxtail and jerk chicken and pork, she says. “We’ll have some surprises too — some things we haven’t done on the menu.” (After devouring Friday's lunch special of pan-seared salmon in creamy coconut sauce with rice, beans and flavorful stewed cabbage, I'm putting in a personal request for that dish.) She is also considering taking the food truck to area festivals and farmers markets.
Ives, a Jamaican native whose father was a baker, moved to New York City in 1986 as a teenager and worked in a series of restaurants before opening Jamaica House with the help of her mother, whom she calls her biggest influence. “My mom was right there with me and we started cooking together,” she says.
Carena’s opened in October of 2007 with help from Ives’ former business partner, Jimmy Sneed. It bears the handiwork of restaurant designer Helen Reed and the whimsical painting of J.P. Happy Kuhn, aka Happy the Artist — both of whom will be involved in the re-creation of Carena's, Ives says.
She acknowledges that it’s difficult to halt the restaurant’s momentum. “This has been our busiest year yet,” she says, noting that the economic downturn began not long after Carena’s opened. “We hate to close.”
But she welcomes the shopping center’s upgrade and new development across Midlothian Turnpike, where work is under way on the mixed-use Stonebridge development at the site of the once-thriving Cloverleaf Mall.
“Where we are has been depressed for many years,” Ives says. “Now, this is like springtime in Midlothian.” She adds, “It’s important to look ahead and position myself for the future. I’ve always thought that this was the best location ever. It will become a section of town where people want to go.”