Chef Adrien Lee (left) and Mark Pack get a head start on making food for the Jamaican Jerk food truck.
When he was young, people constantly stopped into Mark Pack’s mother’s Port Huron home for her cooking. His little eyes would peek over pots to watch the Jamaican and West Indian woman, along with his aunt, whip up community favorites.
“Everybody knew my mom’s cooking. After watching for a while, I picked it up,” Pack says.
Now 34, Pack shows off the skills he learned on the Jamaican Jerk food truck. He's proud to carry on the family tradition of authentic cooking. But he doesn't do it alone. Every other week, his mom flies in from Florida to Michigan to help prepare dishes. Pack also gets help from his wife, best friend Martin Nichols, and employees like Adrien Lee, a chef who learned his craft at the Art Institute of Michigan in Novi.
In 2015, after service with the Army National Guard and a few years out-of-state, Pack returned to Michigan. He started Mark Pack with his food truck, Jamaican Jerk.cooking out of his dad’s Port Huron house serving family, friends, and anybody who heard about the food via Facebook or word-of-mouth until a little over two years ago when an opportunity arose. Robert Duenez of Little Mexico in Port Huron asked Pack to grill in front of the restaurant. After four months, Pack had saved enough money to start his own endeavors--buying a trailer and launching a food truck.
“We just kept growing and growing, building the brand, and we were just rocking,” Pack says. It has been a steady rise in success in his hometown and the surrounding Blue Water region since then. You may have seen Jamaican Jerk at Boat Night, Art in the Park, 4H, Rockin’ the Rivers, and other community events.
He started out making jerk chicken, jerk pork, and rib tips, which are still the truck’s staples, served daily. Everything is made from scratch, keeping in tune with Pack’s intention to keep the food authentic. He wakes up at 6 a.m. most days to prep and cook cabbage and rice and, most importantly, season the meat.
“It usually takes three hours for food to be fully prepared from start to finish, so for catering at 10, we fire up the grill no later than 7:30,” Pack explains.
The meat is cooked on two “barbecue smoker grills” on the back of the truck. Specials rotate daily and include options like curry chicken (with curry shipped in from Jamaica), stewed chicken, salmon, salads, and sandwiches. Pack sells his popular jerk sauce by the bottle out of the food truck, too, which he hopes will expand to grocery stores soon.
“The food is amazing, and the prices can’t be beat. If you live in Port Huron and want an authentic Caribbean taste, hit them up. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed,” Aaron Cotter of Toronto said in a review. He recommends the rib tips.
When all the preparation and initial cooking is done and the truck opens to customers, Pack heads to the health department and the county to notify them of any changes or moves of the truck.
“The county, the cities, Port Huron, Fort Gratiot Township, Port Huron Township, they have all been a big help to me with licensing and pointing me in the right direction. It is unbelievable how much love they show me,” he says.
"We just kept growing and growing, building the brand, and we were just rocking,"
Jamaican Jerk food truck
Vendors often have to jump through hoops to get licensing and permits for food trucks, and many have to be reissued with each new location. Chicago is notorious for the hassle its food trucks owners go through to find a legal place to sell, but it is not easy anywhere.
“Food trucks are still so new, and there are laws that haven’t been created that need to be. Every bit is a learning experience for everybody, but as far as St. Clair County, they work with you and help you look for the right information. They point you to the right people and are very helpful,” Pack says.
Lunch carts and shabby, unbranded trucks have been around for much longer, but gourmet food trucks got their start in the late 2000s. Now, many are truly kitchens on wheels, and Zagat even rates them. The Great Food Truck Race on The Food Network just wrapped up its ninth season; this type of dining isn’t a quick-passing trend.
More and more, food trucks are hired for weddings, as an addition to outdoor events like farmer’s markets and festivals, or at rallies focused entirely on the trend. In the Metro Detroit region, big-name restaurants like Slow’s, Biglora, and Imperial amped up their already buzzing businesses by adding a food truck to their brick-and-mortar spots. Others, like Takoi, started out as food trucks and found so much success that they turned into sit-down establishments.
Beef Steak is one of many meals Mark Pack serves from the Jamaican JerkPack says he decided not to have a permanent residence for Jamaican Jerk because of lower overhead costs and the flexibility.
The Blue Water Region is not yet a go-to spot for food trucks and trailers, with only a few options like Eli’s Eats in the Streets and LuckyLunch. The amount of interest in Jamaican Jerk and daily Facebook posts from customers shows that it can become one, though. “As our region continues to make more progress on cool outdoor spaces, we are certainly one of the voices that advocate for opportunities to be more supportive to the food truck industry,” says Community Foundation President Randy Maiers.
Jamaican Jerk’s home base, Monday through Friday starting around 11 a.m., is at 24th and Dove next to Industrial Park Party Store. On the weekends, it moves to Gnonek’s Party Story in Marysville off of Gratiot. The truck is often at fairs, company lunches, and has upcoming wedding events, so be sure to check their Facebook page to locate it. Jamaican Jerk also posts delivery options and can be reached for catering.