Jamaican flavors add new layer to Dunsmuir's restaurant scene

Taste of Caribbean owner Kevin Sampson stands in front of a coffee maker and microwave on Sunday, July 9, 2022.
Ethan Hanson
Redding Record Searchlight

Dunsmuir resident Kevin Sampson greeted a group of people who filled chairs and empty tables at his restaurant Taste of Caribbean on last Sunday, July 10.

Travelers had arrived 15 minutes before closing time at 6 p.m. but Sampson, 53, and his wife, Latiaha, were eager to serve the dozen people who wore hiking boots and looked hungry.

Latiaha was in the kitchen cooking jerk chicken with assistant Kenneth Jackson and Kevin was making smoothies as reggae music played in the background. 

The sweet smell of various sauces made from peppers, pineapples, onions, scallions and cane sugar filled the room. Seasoned chicken, fish and beef cooked in various pots and ovens.  

"We have a variety of people that have different likes," said Latiaha Sampson, 47. "They have tried the food, they've enjoyed it and we want to keep our customers happy."

Kevin Sampson's goal was to bring Caribbean cuisine to Siskiyou County after he moved to the region with Latiaha in 2017. Taste of Caribbean opened on June 30.

"Everyone knows about reggae and Bob Marley but they don't know about Caribbean food," Kevin Sampson said. "They need to know (Jamaicans) aren't just swimmers, runners and entertainers. We are cooks too, and we wanted to take it there."

Kevin Sampson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. His grandparents taught him how to get around the kitchen. He learned to make jerk chicken and stew gumbo. He knows how to blend ingredients to give dishes their distinct Caribbean island flavors.

"We also have pulled pork, jerk fish, Jamaican patties, Jamaican drinks, callaloo, Jamaican everything," Sampson said. 

Taste of Caribbean offers jerk chicken served with cole slaw, black beans and wild rice.

Sampson said he owned a restaurant called The Folly Lawn in his hometown. He moved to the United States in 1998 when he was in his late 20s. Sampson said he moved because of Jamaica's poor economy.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities over there," Sampson said.

He lived in Los Angeles. Two years later, he moved to Oakland and stayed there for a long time. In the East Bay, he worked as a warehouse worker and was a room attendant for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Five years ago, in 2017, he met Latiaha.

A year later, they moved to Siskiyou County. Together, they opened a daycare in 2018 and are foster parents. But cooking was Sampson's passion.

"I had a plan to open up my own Caribbean food restaurant when I came to America," Sampson said.  

The couple had considered opening Taste of Caribbean in Yreka or Mount Shasta. But they settled on Dunsmuir because they liked the people.

Cup of chicken gumbo made from Taste of Caribbean in Dunsmuir on Sunday, July 9, 2022.

Sampson said he bought the space using money savings he built up for over a decade.

"We knew from the very beginning that this was the spot," Latiaha Sampson said.

The restaurant is at 5838 Dunsmuir Ave. near Pizza Factory, Kurth Cookery, La Perle de Nayarit and The Wheelhouse.

Taste of Caribbean's building was previously occupied by Video Station, a movie rental store.

"There's a lot of people that want to eat healthy meals in Dunsmuir and I feel like we made the right decision by starting our restaurant here," Kevin Sampson said.

Sampson and Latiaha said they've received positive feedback from customers since their restaurant opened.

Taste of Caribbean owner Kevin Sampson (center) holds his adopted son Michael, 2, (left) alongside his daughter Ziona, 13 (right).

"The people are awesome, they're friendly and they like organic food," Latiaha Sampson said. "There's a big vegan community and we meet a lot of their needs." 

Lately, the customers have been hikers and adventurers.

"We've been getting a lot of love from tourists from different places," Latiaha Sampson said. "They're enjoying our food, having good conversations and it's just the vibe. Our customers are what make (the restaurant) happen."

The restaurant stayed open an extra 20 minutes to allow the customers to finish their meals. Sampson offered free baked, vegetarian patties to the group as they left the store. 

"It's about pleasing the customers," Sampson said. "If they are happy then I am happy. If I see people enjoying my food, it gives me motivation to make more for them."   

Ethan Hanson started working for the Redding Record Searchlight after four years with the Los Angeles Daily News as a freelancer. His coverage includes working the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, and writing about the St. Louis Rams' move to Los Angeles with the Ventura County Star. He began his career as a play-by-play broadcaster for LA Pierce College from 2011-2017. Follow him on Twitter at @EthanAHanson_RS.