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Daddy-O’s: A Taste of Jamaica

See for yourself live from Daddy-Os. Click for slideshow.

No one knows him by Oyddad Daley. His first name backwards is what everyone calls him: “Daddy-O.”

Wearing a white chef’s coat with jerk sauce stains and a brown leather flat cap, Daley walks towards the front of the restaurant to the “pit” to turn over the chicken that has been cooking in the smoker for the past three hours.

The Manchester, Jamaica, native picks the darkest pieces and puts them in his steel pan. He walks back to the kitchen singing the Reggae version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

He quickly chops the blackened jerk chicken with a meat clever and disperses a healthy portion to the three carry-out trays lying on the steel island-like counter. They are jerk chicken dinners, a Daddy-O’s favorite.

Jerk catfish, jerk salad, ackee and salt fish, oxtail, rice and peas, curry goat, beef patty, plantain are other traditional Jamaican dishes Daddy-O’s offers.

Daddy-O’s Jerk Pit, at 7518 S. Cottage Grove Ave., is a Caribbean-style Jamaican restaurant on Chicago’s South Side. For nearly 15 years Daley, its owner, has been the main ingredient that has kept it all together.

“I own and I’m the cook. I promote. I advertise. I fetch the food, and I prepare the food,” he said. “That makes it special to me.”

He calls his job a dedication, meaning “everyday you get up and you look forward to what you do, and this is what I do.”

Daley said he’s been cooking for about 30 years since he was 18. And when he came to the United States in 1983, he worked as a cook in a hotel. He did that for eight years before going into business for himself.

Daley only has one other person who assists him with cooking. All his other workers just prepare food. Even though it’s a lot of work, he takes pride in doing most of the cooking. He enjoys being the head chef of his own restaurant and having his preparers “follow suit,” he said.

“I can determine when the food is finished, when the food is right,” and that, he said, makes him feel good.

But as the owner, Daley has to do a lot more than fry plantain, chop up curry goat and decide when food is ready to be served. He has his daily routine.

“I get up in the morning, have me a cup of tea,” he said, partially joking.

He then watches “Perry Mason” and Frank Cannon in “Cannon,” two detective shows that aired in the 1950s to 1970s.

On his way to work, he calls in his order of supplies to A&G Fresh Market. He picks up about $300 worth of supplies everyday which includes 70 pound cases of chicken, oxtails and other items. He said his morning orders are just to start off the day. He orders fresh food everyday.

Jamaican restaurants use fresh poultry and fish everyday and get their supplies at the top of the day. Some owners like Daley, pick up their orders. Other restaurants like D’s Jerk Hut in Burnham, get their orders delivered daily.

Chicago first saw an influx of Jamaican immigrants in the 1940s. Jamaicans and other west Indian natives are now spread throughout the city.

Deon Lopez, from the Caribbean Association of Midwest America said “the Caribbean population is very scattered” around the city and is not centralized in any major neighborhood. But in the 1960s and 1970s the Jamaican population increased and many settled on the South Side. And so, it’s not unusual to spot a Caribbean restaurant every few blocks on the South Side.

Lopez said there are 87 Caribbean restaurants in Chicago. Of the 87, two are Haitian-based, two are Belizean and the rest are Jamaican.

Customers of Daddy-O said no other place compares. Derolyn Dozier is a Daddy-O’s regular. She’s been a customer of Daley’s since Daddy-O’s came to 75th and Cottage Grove. Some 14 years after she ate her first meal there, she remembers she ordered a dark dinner or a jerk chicken dinner with all pieces of chicken crisp and dark.

“To me, it’s the best jerk in the city,” said Dozier. “He has a better flavor. His recipes [are] better than the others.”

Dozier said it’s also the customer service that’s one of a kind.

“[To Daddy-O’s] loyal customers, he’s very personable. He might not know you by name, but he knows you by face,” Dozier said.

And Daley has a unique way to describe his customers.

“They’re very obnoxious. They’re very picky. But overall, they like the atmosphere,” said Daley.  “I enjoy them. I fuss with them a little bit sometimes. It’s OK. They know we have that [bond].”

He said if he’s not fussing, singing, or coming from the behind the kitchen into the dining area to chit-chat, they’ll ask “What’s wrong with you?”

Daley loves his job but said when he retires, he just wants to be a butler.

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