Melody Cunningham, a longtime Martha’s Vineyard resident, believed the cool island vibe of her home was still missing something: the taste of another island, Jamaica. Cunningham, the widow of reggae legend Peter Tosh, envisioned a lively open-air stand and the smell of authentic Jamaican food wafting down Vineyard Haven’s Main Street.
Last year, the Vineyard welcomed Cunningham’s mobile food truck, Irie Bites. The Irie Bites truck, which serves dishes such as jerk chicken, rice and beans, and plantains, is popular not just with tourists but also with the island’s seasonal workforce, many of whom are Jamaican.
“Irie means love, happiness, everything blessed,” said Cunningham, who owns the truck with Vineyard photographer Peter Simon.
How did you get interested in Jamaican food?
I’m originally from Boston but lived in Jamaica for eight years and still travel there. Jamaica is my second home — my children were born there, and that’s where I learned to cook Jamaican food.
What are the best and worst parts of owning a food truck?
Food trucks are all about fun and spontaneity, taking food and bringing it to the streets. But serving meals out of a truck can sometimes be more work, and definitely more preparation.
How did you find your truck?
It was very serendipitous; we got a phone call from a friend who had a truck that he used off-island in the winter to feed homeless people. We initially rented it, but now purchased it. We did have to put in a grill, because if you’re doing authentic jerk chicken, it needs to be grilled.
What was your biggest lesson after you started?
Learning to manage production is the biggest learning curve. We do the prep work in a restaurant kitchen and then stock the truck. For a food truck festival, we need to have hundreds of servings. Then there are forks, napkins, and food containers; you don’t want to run out of anything.
How do you attract people?
It’s all about branding, and my goal is to make Irie Bite visitors feel like they’re in Jamaica. We’re in a great location, right downtown, which is key. The reggae music is playing; there’s the smell of beef or vegetable patties or sweet brown sugar in the air.
What’s your favorite item on the menu?
I love the rice and peas. They’re cooked in coconut milk, flavored with scallions, thyme, and seasoning.
Food trucks have been popularized on television Do you watch these shows?
I do learn from these shows. They make me want to make my truck more snazzy and get new wheels and a bigger grill. But for now, it does the job.