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Island Vybz brings fresh Jamaican

BY BILL COONEY | APRIL 16, 2015 5:00 AM

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Fresh Jamaican flavor may soon hit the streets in Iowa City’s newest mobile “rasta-raunt.”

Fresh food is the key to what Island Vybz food truck is all about, said Robert McLean, who co-owns the food truck with wife Kelly McLean.

All ingredients of the island cuisine will be locally sourced except for some specialty items Robert McLean uses in some of his dishes, which come from Jamaica.

“For my jerk seasoning, I bring in pimento wood all the way from Jamaica; that’s the real way to make it,” he said. “As you can probably guess, it’s not the cheapest, but it’s worth it.”

Island Vybz’s menu includes traditional Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken and pork and also contains some Jamaican twists on American cuisine.

The jerk burger will combine a family recipe for jerk seasoning, with a burger to make a food that’s found nowhere else, McLean said.

“I’m going to make fresh food every day, and if they’ll let me, I want to donate all my leftover food to a shelter,” McLean said. “I’m going to buy ingredients from the Co-op and the farmers’ markets. I’ll also be working the farmers’ markets.”

Robert and Kelly McLean started Island Vybz soon after they moved to Iowa City from New Jersey, around one year ago. The couple chose Iowa City because they thought it would be the best place to raise their five children.

“It’s a big change coming from just outside of New York City,” Kelly McLean said. “But we think this is a great place for our kids, and it takes me a lot less time to get to work than it used to.”

Kelly McLean works at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as a nurse, and Robert McLean works as a chef at the Marriott in Coralville, but he has been cooking for most of his life.

“I learned to cook from my mother; she taught me that a man needs to know how to cook and wash his clothes from an early age,” he said. “When I cook, I won’t serve something if I wouldn’t serve it to my own mother.”

One national food truck official said food trucks can change the culinary and social landscape of a city for the better.

“There’s also a social aspect to food trucks that adds to a community,” Matt Geller, CEO of the National Food Truck Association said. “A few trucks lined up can turn any space into a gathering area for people.”

Island Vybz is currently catering, but if a new Iowa City food-truck ordinance is passed, the McLeans said they’ll be in the mobile restaurant as soon as they can.

The ordinance needs to be voted in favor once more to allow food trucks to park in certain city parking stalls with a permit.

A passion for food and a laid-back attitude is what Island Vybz is going to bring to Iowa City, Robert McLean said.

“I can’t wait to get into the truck; I would be out there today if I could,” he said. “It’s not about competition for me, it’s about making people great, authentic Jamaican food.”


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