A Family of Flavors: Jamaican Door blends Hatch family’s Jamaican and Door County heritage

Driving by Roots Inn and Kitchen in Sister Bay, an aroma wafts out from behind the building. “Jamaican Door, 5-8” reads the chalkboard sign out front. 

Wandering toward the diffusing smell of jerk chicken, you might expect to find the back door of the kitchen cracked open or one of the county’s many food trucks parked there – not a guy in a baseball cap and glasses peering into a smoker in a pickup-truck-bed-turned-trailer, with one white folding table as his only prep surface. There also might be a beer in his hand. 

Jamaican food in Door County might initially sound like an oxymoron, but for Jamaican-born Georgina and fifth-generation Door County native Carlin, it’s a marriage of both of their homes. 

They met when Georgina spent a summer studying abroad in Door County during college. A reggae band was playing at Husby’s, a short walk from where she and her friends were staying. Carlin was a bartender there at the time, and after getting off his shift, he spilled a drink on Georgina. 

A summer romance, engagement, marriage and two kids later, they and their family live in Sister Bay at Carlin’s grandfather’s old farm – raising animals, farming and bringing Jamaican flavors to the Door.

Flavors of Home

“Honestly,” Carlin said, “the initial embers of it were to bring some part of Jamaica up here for Georgina.”

Jamaican Door started in 2015, but Jamaican food had already been a part of the Hatch family. Georgina’s relatives sent her seasonings and other treats to stave off homesickness, and she just started cooking. They had jerk chicken at their kids’ birthday parties or took a little grill to Pebble Beach.

“Just fun stuff,” Carlin said. 

Moving from a small family’s traditions to a company – and much of their growth since – has been a matter of the right door opening at the right time, he said. 

Starting first at a shared kitchen in Algoma with the help of Mary Pat Carlson of Wildwood Market, Jamaican Door began selling its jerk sauce. A year later, in 2016, it had its first food service at the Baileys Harbor farmers market. 

“That next door just keeps on getting opened,” Carlin said.

The family’s fingerprints are on every aspect of Jamaican Door. The signature jerk-sauce recipe is from Georgina’s brother-in-law Oneil, and the pimento in it – more commonly called allspice in the United States – is shipped from an uncle’s farm in Jamaica. 

When they got started, Georgina helped on the grill, but she has an eye issue that’s easily aggravated by smoke. Now Carlin is the person out front grilling and serving, and Georgina focuses on the recipes. 

“Standing in parking lots grilling things,” he said, is more in his wheelhouse.

In the early days, they had Carlin’s parents or a friend watch their kids for the night, but that changed as they expanded their pop-up service. 

Georgina and Phoenix play in the kitchen at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Sister Bay center. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

Balancing Act

The Hatches do it all while juggling care for their two children: Phoenix, age 9, and Carlin Jr. (CJ), age 8. Balancing schedules is a challenge for any food-service family, but for the Hatches, it’s particularly difficult.

Phoenix was born with Marshall Smith Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder in which individuals typically have advanced bone age, difficulties gaining weight, distinctive facial features and intellectual disability.

“It’s so rare that no doctor who has ever seen her has ever seen another patient with the condition,” Carlin explained. 

For Phoenix’s doctors and parents, that means her growth is a journey of discovery, and finding support and resources presents its own set of hurdles. They found a niche Facebook group of about 25 other families from around the world who share their stories, and they’ve connected with a research program in the Netherlands where a doctor is studying the disease. Their care team has continued to grow with them.

“I can’t say enough about Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and the care she gets, and Door County Medical Center has been incredible,” Carlin said. “It has been dicey at times, and they’ve been great.” 

“Dicey” means they’ve had to resuscitate Phoenix at school twice, and she has had inpatient care at Children’s Hospital at least seven times. After an incident last fall, Georgina decided to put her growing cosmetology career on hold to accompany Phoenix to school at Gibraltar to help care for her. Georgina has also started a YouTube channel to share Phoenix’s journey – the good and the bad – in the hopes that other families might discover it, find comfort in it and gain knowledge from it. 

In addition, Georgina has been appointed to a special advisory board at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to share her experiences and learning in her journey raising Phoenix. This summer she’ll travel to Washington, D.C., with Phoenix to advocate for policies to help special-needs children and their families. 

“It’s certainly not easy,” Carlin said, “but we rely a lot on faith. I wasn’t particularly religious growing up, but I think the Lord puts things on you to bring you to him, and that’s kind of what happened. For me, it’s trying to know what’s out of your hands, and what you can control, and being OK with that. We try to focus more on our blessings than our challenges.”

Those blessings include a community that supports their business and their family – none more valuable than Phoenix’s classmates.

“These kids are so much better than we were,” Carlin said. “We didn’t know any better, but Phoenix is an important part of the class with these kids. They’re so compassionate. The ‘otherness’ that kids with special needs have felt in the past isn’t there for her. It’s hard for Phoenix to get to class on time because everyone wants to say hi to her. It’s inspiring to see that inclusivity.”

The oldest person living with Marshall Smith Syndrome is in their 30s, Carlin said, and despite Phoenix’s medical scares, he said he sees no reason to believe she won’t. Phoenix’s vocabulary is expanding, and she now communicates with a combination of signs and words. 

A Family Kitchen

Just down Highway 42 from Roots is Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s (NWTC) Learning and Innovation Center, and inside is a shared commercial kitchen that Carlin and Georgina – as well as numerous other local producers – use to create their food products. Jamaican Door was the first to use it, migrating from NWTC’s Sturgeon Bay location.

They use the space about once a week for a small amount of food preparation for their pop-ups, but mostly to bottle their two sauces: their original jerk sauce and a cherry variety that Gerogina worked for more than two years to perfect. 

“We’re in Door County,” she said with a laugh. “You’ve got to add cherries.” 

The family works and plays together making their jerk sauces in the commercial kitchen at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Learning and Innovation Center in Sister Bay. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

Back home, she said, they usually add whatever’s in season to the sauces they’re making. The cherry-infused sauce also honors Carlin’s great grandmother Amy Seaquist, of the Seaquist Orchards family. 

While their mom and dad worked on bottling sauces and grinding seasonings, CJ sat in the kitchen playing games on his tablet, with Phoenix coloring next to him. As they explained the process, CJ asked how they get the sauce in the bottles, and Georgina turned to him to explain. This is, after all, very much a family endeavor.

“How long do you marinate the chicken?” I asked. 

“About three days,” Carlin said.

“You have to give it time to really take in that flavor,” Georgina said. “The longer the better. Can’t be too long.”

CJ piped up from the cooking game he was playing on his tablet.

“I’m putting pepper on!”

“Are you?” Georgina said.

“Yeah, look at this,” CJ said, and flipped his tablet around to show us a pizza he was decorating. 

“What a design!” Carlin said.

“A beautiful one,” Georgina added.

The Door County community is also ingrained in Jamaican Door. Its logo – a chicken with deer antlers – was created by a friend. The Hatches are still told they’re missed at the Baileys Harbor farmers market, even though their last appearance there was five years ago. One regular, Frank, makes sure he’s wherever they are, right as they start serving at 5 pm.

“We’re very committed to the community,” Carlin said, “and trying to find a way to make it happen here.”

Whether in the kitchen or in a parking lot, Jamaican Door is a harmonious mash of two places that are nearly 2,000 miles apart. 

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