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    Nearly 1,500 miles away from the tropics of his home country, Roof Top Grill owner Courtney Johnson, 54, lounges in one of the two booths in his restaurant. Though he is a Jamaica native, Johnson transplanted to the States at 18 and has lived in Florida, New York City and now Louisville. “My second love behind carpentry is food,” Johnson says in his thick Jamaican accent. “At 25 I was a construction supervisor in New York, but I always dreamed I would open a chain of restaurants that I would design.”

    The scent of jerk seasoning Johnson makes in the restaurant fills the crimson-colored rectangular dining room, which is lit by one large window. “People come here from as far away as New York and Florida and tell me they’ve never had jerk this good,” he says. “Jamaican people mostly cook at home. I get a lot of younger people from the neighborhood in here, though.”

    In addition to the booths, there are three tables and a counter with stools. Johnson did most of the restaurant’s woodwork, including the mantelpiece on the dark-red brick wall in the back. Above the wood-paneled ordering station, a blackboard displays the authentic Jamaican menu in brightly colored chalk: jerk chicken, jerk rib tips, curry chicken, oxtails, side dishes such as rice, collard greens and cabbage, and a few American favorites of the fried chicken variety. “My food is everything to me. It’s all about health and taste, so I do a lot of grilling, a lot of jerk. I don’t put meat in my greens. I make my own seasoning,” Johnson says. “And I don’t have a lot of competition because what I do is different. There’s not a lot of Jamaican food in this part of the world, so I knew this was a good place to start.”

    The restaurant, which opened a little more than a year ago, is situated in a strip of mostly vacant storefronts on the odd curve that Louis Coleman Jr. Drive takes before intersecting with Broadway. Johnson laughs when asked about the name. “I’ll be honest,” he says, smiling. “At first, I wasn’t going to call it Roof Top Grill. That wasn’t my way of thinking, but I was working up on top of the roof and grilling up there. I even built a little shelter up there. And then it just hit me.”

    He folds his callused hands and rests them on the table while reminiscing about a life of woodworking and cooking for himself as a young boy. “I started cooking when I was 13. In Jamaica we raise a lot of animals ourselves, so we respect nature,” he says. “When I came here, I knew I would have to cook for myself. The two things I love are part of things everybody needs: food and shelter. I’m lucky I know how to provide those things for myself.”

    Written by Tyler Curth

    This article appears in the September issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here

    Krista Walker's picture

    About Krista Walker

    Born and raised in the Bluegrass with a five year stint at UD (Go Flyers!), i'm a photography nerd, Instagram obsessor, happy hour believer, Mexican food lover, and writer for Louisville.com & StyleBlueprint Louisville as well as a graphic designer at The Learning House. I also run a lifestyle photography business called You've Got Flair. Check me out over here --> www.youvegotflair.com. Cheers!

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