Ray Simmonds wants customers to walk into his new restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg and feel like they’re on mini vacation in Jamaica.

Pimenta, which opened at 1108 Caroline St. in January, specializes in his twist on such Caribbean island dishes as the jerk chicken that he grew up watching his mother make.

“We’re more like an upscale Jamaican restaurant,” Simmons said. “If you went to a resort, you’d get the same ambiance and the same food.”

Simmonds lived in Jamaica until he was 13, and said that he was inspired to open Pimenta at the urging of people who’d tasted the dishes he prepared when he wasn’t working as a Virginia Department of Transportation district manager.

His mom had taught him how to cook, and he’d developed a reputation for his spin on her recipes. He uses a Big Green Egg barbecue cooker instead of a wood stove to cook his jerk chicken, for example, and serves it with a sauce he created.

“It makes it more tender. It’s like a convection oven that steams it while it’s grilling it,” Simmonds said of the Big Green Egg. “Plus, we add a sauce. My mom didn’t add a sauce.”

He and his family spent about a year and a half finding a location for the restaurant and getting it ready. They picked Pimenta as its name because it’s the same word for two key ingredients in Jamaican cuisine: allspice and Scotch Bonnet, or bonney, pepper. His daughter incorporated both in the logo she created for the business.

The family-owned and operated restaurant gets most of its chicken, lamb and beef from Safa Halal Meats in Fredericksburg, and its fresh fish from the same provider used by Wegmans. It also creates its own jerk sauces using the herbs and spices typical of Jamaican cooking.

Pimenta’s menu includes Kingston egg rolls, Rastaman lamb burgers and Momma’s jerk chicken, along with oxtail. So far, oxtail has been Pimenta’s fastest seller.

“Oxtail is popular in the islands and down South,” Simmonds said. “It’s pretty much like stew beef. It’s similar to that, but with a lot of favor.”

Pimenta isn’t the only new restaurant in town that got its start because people liked someone’s food so much that they were urged to open a restaurant.

In Maria Martin’s case, it was the food the Honduran mother of five cooked for her family and friends. She and her family launched Juan More Taco as a food truck that serves tacos and other Central American dishes in 2016. Two years later it wasnamed Best Food Truck in the Burg.

The Martins recently expanded their business by buying a big food truck to replace the smaller trailer they started with and by opening a restaurant in the former Virginia Deli location downtown. The yellow brick building at 826 Caroline St. had plumbing problems when the restaurant first opened in early March, and had to close for a time. It’s now open noon to 7 p.m. daily.

“We had a big following with the food truck,” Martin said. “Now they don’t have to wait until we’re out.”

Juan More Taco’s food trucks are known for handmade wheat and corn tortillas, which are used in its tacos, quesadillas and a combination of the two called tacodillas.

“What I like is that they don’t have preservatives,” Martin said. “You can taste the difference.”

The restaurant’s menu is similar to what’s sold at the food trucks, with the addition of soups and specials. Potato soup loaded with bacon, cheddar cheese and chives, and topped with pico de gallo and more cheese and chives were a recent soup of the day. Some of the most popular items include its keto bowl and the stuffed avocado.

“I never thought people would pay for my food,” Martin said during a break at the restaurant. “I never went to culinary school. I just cook from the heart.”

Fredericksburg is also getting two chains new to this area and a third that already has a location in Stafford County. They’re Burgerim, which had its soft opening at 1287 Carl D. Silver Parkway on April 3; Mission BBQ, which will open its second area location in Spotsylvania Crossing Shopping Center next month; and CAVA, a fast-casual Mediterranean chain that will open in a former bank building at 3205 Plank Road sometime next year.

Dedrick Lynch, who co-owns the local Burgerim franchise with Joseph Darr II, discovered the chain when he spotted a photo of one of its 3-ounce burgers topped with an egg on Facebook.

He and Darr work with small businesses in their day jobs at Intuit in Stafford, and had long been interested in owning a small business of their own.

“You want to actually be part of the magic,” Darr said.

They both had some restaurant experience, and were intrigued by Burgerim’s concept. Israeli native Donna Tuchner came up with it after attending culinary school in New York. She opened the first Burgerim, which translates to “many burgers” in Hebrew, in Tel Aviv.

It specializes in mini burgers made with 3-ounce patties, which makes them slightly larger than a typical slider. (A 5-ounce patty is in the works.)

Burgerim burgers are available in four different types of beef, as well as turkey, lamb, chicken, salmon, sausage and two vegetarian options. Each one comes with lettuce, tomato and onion; and customers have a choice of nine additional special toppings, from classic grilled onion to a sunny-side-up egg.

Chicken wings, French fries and salads are also available, as are desserts, beer and wine.

“You can feed a family of five no matter how different their palates are,” said Darr. “The demographic we speak to is very wide.”

The chain is now owned by Oren Loni and headquartered in Encino, Calif. It has more than 160 locations in the United States and is expanded abroad.

“They’re opening up left and right,” Darr said.

He and Lynch decided to open their first location in Central Park because it’s in a heavily trafficked area just off Interstate 95, and they expect to get additional business once the multipurpose stadium opens in Celebrate Virginia South next April. Customers can also order through Uber Eats and Door Dash, and the store will eventually offer catering, as well.

“We want to open one in Stafford in the [State Route] 610 area a year from now,” Darr said.

Mission BBQ, a Maryland-based chain known for serving traditional American barbecue with a hefty side of patriotism, is expanding in the opposite direction. It opened its first restaurant locally at 267 Garrisonville Road in Stafford, and started construction in front of the Gabe’s in Spotsylvania Crossing Shopping Center in January.

“It’s a great site. We’ve been trying to find a place in Fredericksburg for three or four years,” said Craig Briggs, Mission BBQ’s director of operations for Central Virginia. “It has good access. It’s on the right side of the road when people are heading home when they get off I–95.”

Construction was delayed two weeks when high winds damaged the metal framework that had just gone up. There will a week of special events honoring the military, first responders and others before the grand opening, which is tentatively set for Memorial Day.

Mission BBQ was founded on Sept. 11, 2011, by two friends who were passionate about barbecue and wanted to have a business with meaning and purpose, according to its website. The chain raises money for local police and fire departments through its annual Hometown Heroes Cup sales, pays tribute to veterans and donates to such things as Wreaths Across America.

CAVA, like Burgerim, is a new entry in Fredericksburg. Renovation of the two-story, former bank building next to Regal Cinemas Fredericksburg 14 is underway, and the restaurant is expected to open in summer 2020.

It offers a chef-driven menu of customizable bowls, salads and pitas. Bon Appétit magazine published its recipe for a black lentil and harissa-roasted veggie bowl in February.

CAVA opened its first restaurant in Bethesda in 2011 and has since become one of the country’s hottest growth chains. Today, the chain includes more than 75 restaurants and a line of chef-crafted dips and spreads sold in more than 250 Whole Foods Market locations and specialty grocery stores. It acquired its biggest competitor, Zoës Kitchen Inc., in 2018.

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Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407 cjett@freelancestar.com

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