Cover Story: Incredible Journeys, Part 2: Island Cafe & Grill, Hyannis

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Opening your own business is part of the American dream, the ideal for which equal opportunity is available to any American. That dream has also attracted aspiring entrepreneurs from around the world. The Cape Cod and Plymouth region is full of many of these successful entrepreneurs who came to the area from other countries. As we celebrate Independence Day this month, we take a look at three journeys.

Island Cafe & Grill, Hyannis

When your roots are Jamaican, but you’re setting up a restaurant where the Cape Cod  tourist market craves fish and chips and other traditional seafood specialities, what’s the business strategy?

Erica and Patrick Sterling
Erica and Patrick Sterling, owner of The Island Cafe & Grill in Hyannis, pose with their award for 2021 Small Business of The Year from the Greater Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce.

At The Island Cafe & Grill, Patrick and Erica Sterlings’ recipe is to cater to the tourists and locals but also offer tastes of Jamaican spices and dishes. 

The couple first came to Cape Cod from Jamaica in 1998 on an H2B visa and fell in love with the region and the opportunities for work and a quality of life they couldn’t have in their native country. The Sterlings  decided to stay, eventually becoming U.S. citizens and raising a family. Patrick had worked 22 years as a manager at 21 Atlantic at the five-star Wequassett Inn and Resort, while Erica earned her restaurant chops at Schooner’s and The Riverway. They shared a dream of owning their own restaurant and in 2017 they opened at a former sub shop located near the railroad tracks on busy Iyannough Road.

Island Cafe Oxtail Dinner
The Oxtail Dinner is among Jamaica specialties at The Island Cafe and Grill.

“Our own experience in the business paved the way for us, but when it’s your own place, it’s definitely a different monster,” said Patrick. “It requires patience and the ultimate goal is to have the customer return, to know you have good food to bring them back again and again. Restaurants are tough business and everyone has challenges. You have to do the best you can.”

“I didn’t think it would be this hard,” echoes Erica. “The overhead was insane.”

The Island Cafe & Grill began with traditional breakfast and lunch fare, but it has added in some Jamaican dishes over time and is now open for dinner, too.  Jamaica’s famous jerk spice (Patrick uses Walker’s Wood Jerk Sauce (sourced from Jamaica) is added to some traditional  dishes such as Chicken Alfredo, a Chicken Wrap and the Island Burger. Diners can also sample some more exotic dishes like Curried Goat, Braised Oxtail, Rasta Pasta and Escoviche Red Snapper with Fried Plantains.

Like most restaurants, the pandemic’s restrictions on businesses were difficult times. “We thought we’d have to close at one point,” recalls Erica. 

But they offered to-go meals, installed an outside seating area and in 2020 opened The Island Hotdog Bar, with totally walk-up service, in a space adjacent to the restaurant. 

All their hard work has paid off, Erica said; the business has been well received by both tourists and the locals, the latter who often enjoy special off-season discounts. In fact, The Island Cafe & Grill was recognized by the Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce as 2021 Small Business of the Year.

This entrepreneurial couple is always looking to grow their business and lately have dived into catering. 

“We put a lot of love in our food, we have a passion for this and you have to love what you do and that makes a big difference,” said Erica.

For the complete July cover story, “Incredible Journeys,” go to this link.