The blend of African and Jamaican cooking styles at restaurant Irie Zulu is the beginning of a dining experience that is more than food alone. Integrating their unique menu with a dose of happiness and health are what owners Yollande Deacon and her mother Kate wanted to bring to Wauwatosa.
"We encourage those that have not been here to come by and share our food and culture," Deacon said. "Treating people with love and sharing that through food is what we are about."
The start of the family business began with the fabrication of spice blends and sauces out of a kitchen in Milwaukee four years ago. When the need arose to move production to a larger facility, the choice of where to set up was an easy one to make.
"I chose Tosa because of the demographics," Deacon said. "A good variety of people and a diversity of culture that you can see. You have people interested in different cultures and different types of food. The thirst for global culture exists here."
Deacon moved to the U.S. from the African country of Cameroon 15 years ago to pursue an MBA degree from the University of Marquette. Her first residence was a house in Wauwatosa owned by a dean at the school and she quickly felt good about her new home. When she decided to begin production of her products, the first entity that gave Deacon the chance to sell her wares was the Tosa Farmers Market.
"Tosa adopted me and Tosa supported me," Deacon said. "When I think of home in the Milwaukee area for me it is Tosa."
The menu at the restaurant at 7237 W. North Ave. changes with each season. The restaurant uses as many locally-grown ingredients as possible and infuses them with global flavors. The theme for the dishes they serve also rotates and changes throughout the week. Tuesday through Thursday the choices are mainly African, Fridays you will see a Jamaican focus, and Saturdays you will find a blend of the two. The Jamaican influence is due to the homeland of Deacon's husband.
The main cook responsible for what is on the menu is Yollande's mother Kate. She wears an infectious smile and said to call her "Mamacita" because, well, that is what everyone else does.
"Wauwatosa is a very nice neighborhood," Kate said. "I am grateful to the Wauwatosa community. We started a business here and we ended up finding a nice place to promote our culture."
Saturday, Nov. 19, Deacon and her family gave back to the community by providing food for those in need at the Tosa Cares food pantry. They cooked West African peanut stew and Jamaican curry stir-fry cabbage and provided a hot meal for people picking up cans and boxes of food for their families.
Deacon said as a business owner she wanted to support the community that has supported her and her family. She said food is the most universal language but it is a humbling thing when you don't have it.
"It is our one-year anniversary and it is around Thanksgiving," Deacon said. "I thought it was just the perfect opportunity to humble myself, give back and experience the unique gratification of doing something for people the same way that people helped me."