real jerk toronto

Restaurant beloved by Drake and local celebs has been a Toronto institution since the 80s

There's a certain Caribbean restaurant in Toronto that Drake and Raptors players have been known to hit up, but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to celebs that have visited the restaurant.

Real Jerk originally opened in 1984 in Toronto, and after 30 years in the same location in Riverside their first location moved to Carlaw and Gerrard in Leslieville.

real jerk torontoThey also have a smaller location in the Upper Beaches.

real jerk toronto

What hasn't changed is the family ownership of the Pottinger family, and their logo of a brightly 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 run it this whole time with his wife Lily, and now his son Cleigh is on board as operations manager.

real jerk torontoEd wanted to represent his Caribbean community in Toronto with the restaurant, and lots of the recipes come from Lily, inspired by the food their parents made in Jamaica.

real jerk toronto

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 tells blogTO. 

real jerk torontoHe says eating at Real Jerk is an entire experience that intends to engage all five senses, and is about more than eating food.

real jerk toronto

Visit Real Jerk, especially this Gerrard location, and you're definitely getting more than just roti: you're stepping into a whole history of celebrity visitors and Caribbean culture.

real jerk toronto

Drake and Rihanna shot the music video for their song Work at the Leslieville restaurant, and while Cleigh wasn't there for the shoot his mother has a small cameo in the video, at a point when liquid is poured and flames flare up.

real jerk toronto

Samuel L. Jackson and Steph Curry have also visited the restaurant, and Cleigh says T.I. comes whenever he's in town.

real jerk toronto

He also says back when they had real jerk pit days, people like Bobby Brown and Wesley Snipes even stopped by.

real jerk toronto

"The best reaction is when they return," says Cleigh. "They come back for the food and for the experience."

real jerk toronto

Seeing as celebs that are global names enjoy the food and experience at Real Jerk, it should come as no surprise that world domination isn't out of the question for the restaurant: they opened a UK location around 2018.

Opening a Real Jerk in England was a dream for Ed as it was where he was raised, and the UK restaurant is run by his brother (Cleigh's uncle) Rodney.

real jerk torontoCleigh says though there are a lot of Caribbean restaurants in England, fewer of them are Black-owned and don't actually capture the culture of the Caribbean, generations of people living there further removed from their origins.

And you never know where you might see Real Jerk next.

real jerk toronto"We're always looking for the next opportunity," says Cleigh. "It's time for the family to keep growing the business. Keep your eyes open for Real Jerk."

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim


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