ST. GEORGE — Thanksgiving tradition and fabulous food make this a fantastic time of year at Papa’s Got Jerk.

Owner and operator Cheryl Walker-Ashcraft, second from left, along with daughters Courtney and Sarah and two grandchildren at Papa’s Got Jerk, St. George, Utah, Nov. 19, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

The authentic Jamaican restaurant at Shoppes At Zion on Red Cliffs Drive continued a yearly tradition on Sunday afternoon, handing out free meals for a variety of needy citizens in St. George.

While not exactly on Thanksgiving Day, owner and operator Cheryl Walker-Ashcraft told St. George News that she likes to think of the restaurant’s yearly tradition as a way to say thanks and give back to her community.

“My main reason for doing the service is I want my children to know how fortunate they are,” Cheryl said. “I tell them that our way of contributing to where we live is by giving back to the community. I’ve always lived and grew up that way. I come from a family that is very big on giving service, so it’s always been part of my life.”

Cheryl loved her childhood on the island of Jamaica, where she learned about traditional Jamaican cuisine from her father, Alton.

“All the menu items are things that my dad and I cooked together,” she said. “I was born and raised in Jamaica, my dad was too. Our heritage comes from all the slaves that were indentured servants that were brought to Jamaica.”

The whole family migrated to New York City 20 years ago, Cheryl said, and then she and her six kids moved to St. George after that.

Along with her daughters Courtney and Sarah, Cheryl opened the restaurant (what she calls “the brick and mortar”) a little over two years ago.

While she said there were some hiccups initially, local patrons welcomed Papa’s Got Jerk and its tasty food selections that add variety to the usual St. George fare.

The Thanksgiving edition of Papa’s Got Jerk chicken with red beans and rice, St. George, Utah, Nov. 19, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

Courtney came up with the name of the restaurant and its logo that honors both her grandfather and his style of jerk cooking, using rubs and spices to marinate meat and then grilling it to a fine tenderness.

“Jerk is the native seasoning of Jamaica. All the natural seasonings like scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, onions, pimentos,” Cheryl said. “It’s seasoning that was cultivated by the slaves because they had nothing else to use. So they marinated meat for several days and then they grilled it.”

At the restaurant on Sunday, patrons could choose between free plates of jerk chicken or stew chicken. The former is served off the grill and the latter is served in a savory gravy that makes the dish more like a stew.

The soft chicken melts off the bone and its zesty jerk complements the mellow sweetness of the red beans and rice.

In the weeks leading up to the event, Cheryl handed out a bunch of food vouchers to the homeless shelter at Switchpoint, the Dove Center, Pine View High School student services and St. George Academy.

Anyone from those services could bring in a voucher and select which meal they wanted. Papa’s Got Jerk was open all day to serve food to those who needed it.

It was a family affair as daughters Courtney and Sarah helped serve food and three of Cheryl’s grandkids were there as well. Traffic throughout the day was steady and featured a couple of moments when the line was totally full of patrons.

Papa’s Got Jerk regular customer and new St. George resident Danny Bowles volunteered to work the event out of his love for the food and the people. Although he does prefer the oxtail and butter beans.

“It’s a stewed, braised meat, similar to the stew chicken,” Bowles said. “It’s super moist and super savory. It takes a little work to get at it but it’s totally worth it.”

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