20 years ago, Shawn Fearon, stepped off a ferry on Mackinac Island, which is located on the northern intersection between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. He was 2,000 miles from his home, the island nation of Jamaica, and was experiencing America for the first time on a work program.
“You couldn’t pay me enough money to think that I would eventually own a restaurant on Mackinac Island,” he said, laughing.
Now chef and owner of The Kingston Kitchen at the Village Inn, Shawn has gotten used to the similarities between his adopted island home and the island where he spent his youth.
“We work hard and we party hard,” Shawn said about the comparison between Jamaica and Mackinac Island. “If you take away the weather and the destination, we have behavior and cultural similarities.”
It’s the fusion of similarities that has inspired Kingston Kitchen’s cuisine and menu. Shawn used the foundation established at his first restaurant in Okemos, MI to bring his concept north to the place he first fell in love with cooking.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to cooking, you have to be flexible but remain true to your identity.”
The menu offers a traditional Jamaican section but for the “meat-and-potatoes” customers, Shawn offers Jamaican fusion dishes like Jerk Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo or the Kingston Hawaiian Burger.
“If you can eat mild Buffalo chicken you can eat the entire menu.”
Shawn said he “teases” his customers with Jamaican flavors and relies on his technique and authentic ingredients to remain true to his character. He said that competing with historical restaurants requires him to offer an experience that is unique, but welcoming, to island visitors.
“If you don’t keep examining yourself and keep pushing, then you’re going to fall to the bottom.”
Like many of his colleagues, Shawn has been challenged with the balancing act of owner and chef, especially during the pandemic. Although domestic tourism helped make this summer successful, a lack of seasonal labor has been the worst Shawn has ever experienced.
What keeps Shawn motivated is working seven days a week, always on the line, like he did twenty years ago before he had the title of owner or head chef.
“Everything I do, I put passion in it,” Shawn said. “I always ask myself what am I doing today that I can do better tomorrow?”