Restaurant loved by Drake and local celebrities has been a Toronto institution since the 1980s
There is a certain Caribbean restaurant in Toronto that Drake and Raptors players are known to frequent, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to celebrities who have visited the restaurant.
Real Jerk opened in 1984 in Toronto, and after 30 years at one location in Riverside, their first location moved to Carlaw and Gerrard in Leslieville.
They also have a smaller location in the upper ranges.
What has not changed is the homestead of the Pottinger family and its logo of a smiling sun wearing sunglasses.
Owner Ed Pottinger is originally from Jamaica but grew up in England and came to Toronto in high school. He’s been running it all this time with his wife Lily, and now his son Cleigh is on board as Director of Operations.
Ed wanted to represent his Caribbean community in Toronto with the restaurant, and many recipes come from Lily, inspired by the food their parents made in Jamaica.
Their most popular dishes are their jerk chicken, jerk pork, and oxtail.
“Oxtail used to be a throwaway at the meat market, now it’s a delicacy,” Cleigh Pottinger told blogTO.
He says eating at Real Jerk is a whole experience that aims to engage all five senses and isn’t just about eating food.
Visit Real Jerk, especially this Gerrard location, and you certainly get more than just a roti: you step into a whole story of famous visitors and Caribbean culture.
Drake and Rihanna shot the music video for their song Work at the Leslieville restaurant, and while Cleigh wasn’t there for the shoot, her mother has a small cameo in the video, at a time when liquid is poured out and flames burst.
Samuel L. Jackson and Steph Curry have also visited the restaurant, and Cleigh says TI comes every time he’s in town.
He also says that back in the days when they were having real jerk pit days, people like Bobby Brown and Wesley Snipes even pulled up.
“The best reaction is when they come back,” says Cleigh. “They come back for the food and for the experience.”
Given that celebrities who are global names enjoy the food and experience of Real Jerk, it’s no surprise that global domination isn’t out of the question for the restaurant: they’ve opened a store in the UK. circa 2018.
Opening a Real Jerk in England was a dream for Ed because that’s where he grew up, and the British restaurant is run by his brother (Cleigh’s uncle) Rodney.
Cleigh says that while there are a lot of Caribbean restaurants in England, fewer of them are owned by black people and don’t really capture the culture of the Caribbean, generations of people living there further from their origins.
And you never know where you might see Real Jerk next.
“We’re always looking for the next opportunity,” says Cleigh. “It’s time for the family to continue growing the business. Keep your eyes peeled for Real Jerk.”