MARQUETTE — A taste of the tropics is coming to downtown Marquette.

Shomar Bartley and Emily Wolf are opening The Island Cuisine, a restaurant that will have both American and Jamaican items on the menu.

"I was born in Indianapolis, but the rest of my family was born in Jamaica, so I have a strong Jamaican background and culture," Bartley said.

After high school, Bartley had a variety of jobs, including becoming an employee at McDonald's and working the drive-thru.

"I liked the speed — it kept me entertained, it kept me occupied, but when I first got into the kitchen, that's when I learned I loved cooking," Bartley said.

Bartley went on to work at other restaurants like Applebee's and Longhorn Steakhouse, and was fascinated by the challenges presented in the kitchens.

"I got into management and got to learn the ins and outs of how to order food and take care of food costs," Bartley said.

After earning his business management degree, Bartley felt he was ready to strike out on his own.

"I've always wanted to own my own restaurant," Bartley said. "I love cooking, just not at home."

"He had talked about wanting his own, so when this came on the market, it was kind of like, 'well, we need to have a serious talk,'" Wolf said.

The Island Cuisine's menu will include Jamaican dishes Bartley's parents taught him how to make.

"I always knew how to cook it, but I'll add my own twist to it," Bartley said.

Oxtail stew will be one of the restaurant's featured dishes. To make it, meat is seasoned and sauteed before being boiled with other ingredients.

"It's a mixture of different cooking styles made into one," Bartley said. "You get the sautéing flavoring and the boiling flavoring mixed together; it makes a big clash. It's the best of both worlds."

The traditional Jamaican jerk chicken will also be offered.

"We're going to cook it and then put it in a charcoal grill to give it a smoky flavor," Bartley said.

Jamaican fritters will be served to alleviate the heat from spicier menu items.

"All the flavor, it's really intense. I'm not going to make too much spicy, because here, they're not used to it," Bartley said. "I'll have the option of spicy or not spicy, but either way, it's a bunch of robust flavors."

For breakfast, the restaurant will serve biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes.

"I'm going to tie in a little bit of oatmeal, because oatmeal's a big thing in Jamaica," Bartley said.

Bartley plans to make everything from scratch.

"Even if they aren't adventurous and don't want to try the Jamaican stuff, the good old Kansas cooking that we're going to have — chicken fried steaks and stuff like that — he's going to make that fresh," Wolf said.

Wolf and Bartley said they will have ongoing promotions such as discounts for local college students but details have not yet been established.

They hope to draw diners to Marquette to try something new and come back for more.

"It's an experience they probably haven't had before," Bartley said.

The Island Cuisine will open Dec. 1 at 114 N. Washington. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and lunch on Sunday. 

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.