Irie Zulu, an 18-month old restaurant in Wauwatosa offers a unique fusion of African, Jamaican and American food, according to its founder, Yollande Tchouapi Deacon.
The restaurant, at 7237 W. North Ave., is one of 16 eateries participating in Milwaukee Black Restaurant Week, from April 17 to April 23. The event is sponsored by BlankSpace MKE, an urban art cooperative whose mission is to serve as a “conduit for cooperative economics.”
Deacon, a native Bantu from the Bamileke tribe of Cameroon in West Africa, moved to Milwaukee in 2001 and started Afro Fusion Cuisine, an African and Jamaican sauce company that sells a variety of food products.
Though the concept of Irie Zulu came to her in 2006 she didn’t open the restaurant until November 2015 with the goal of exposing the community “to something unique, a distinct point of view on ethnic cuisine,” Deacon said. Irie is a Bantu word meaning “stress-free, cultured, real, connected to mother earth.” Zulu refers to the iconic Zulu tribe and culture of South Africa.
The menu rotates during the week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, East, South and West African food is on the menu. On Thursday and Friday, Jamaican cuisine is served. On Saturday, the “best of the week” is featured, a combination of customers’ favorite African and Jamaican dishes. The restaurant is closed on Monday.
Deacon described her restaurant’s food as a fusion of “grandma’s cooking and a passionate rendition of our culture.”
Among its best sellers are homemade rum punch, sausage canape and Irie Zulu’s own take on sangria. The ingredients at Irie Zulu are typically from local farms and gardens, and the majority are organic.
Deacon said she wanted to represent the food of her ancestors with intellectual honesty and passion for what the food means to people.
“Here we cook with the heart,” she added. “It’s not just about food. It’s about creating a community, it’s about sharing something beautiful that comes from people of Africa and Jamaica, something honest about those people, to the greater community, and participating in a greater dialogue around food, inclusiveness and culture.”
Irie Zulu also has a mentoring program for high school students looking for work. While championing African and Jamaican culture, Deacon and her staff are active in social causes related to African-American and minority women, and LGBT causes.
“We put our money where our mouth is, so you see us around town donating to these various causes,” said Deacon.