Giancarlo Di Peco
As the line-up grows longer with yet another rush of hungry customers, Ackee Tree owner Chris George calmly explains why he thinks his business has become such a hit at Humber’s North campus.
“I wanted to provide clean, healthy Jamaican food that tastes as authentic as possible, with good service,” George said.
Serving island favourites as jerk chicken, roti and fried plantains, Ackee Tree has been at Humber for more than 20 years.
While George was a bike messenger he noticed something missing at Seneca College.“I saw students go into the college, and I used to eat in the neighbourhood, and I thought there should be a restaurant inside the school.” George said.
George’s partner was attending Humber. George, himself of Jamaican background, started the restaurant with his partner at Seneca and promptly opened another when a spot at Humber was offered to them. George is now the sole owner of the restaurant that has entrenched itself in the appetite of anyone who eats there.
“I love it, it’s hearty, and the food is unique for Humber,” Vice President of Student Life for North campus Ahmed Tahir said. “You get what you pay for and the food is very clean, the product is so good, that’s why he’s successful.”
In the past, George had three outlets but now dedicates all his time to the Humber location.
“Over the years I decided to do only this one to give it that special attention that it needs,” he said.
That special attention has paid off and it has not gone unnoticed throughout the school Director of Campus Services Paul Iskander said, “It’s doing very well, students love it and I see faculty there…he gives you homemade food, not corporate plastic.”
Iskander believes that the success of Ackee Tree can be attributed to the fact that it is a type of restaurant business that other schools are envious of.
“It’s still a niche market, not everybody can cook it,” Iskander said. “We found that it is something that we are missing.”
The growth of the restaurant goes far beyond the high quality food that is offered. George has spent much of his time keeping his business fresh as the customers’ tastes change, adding specials on Thursdays as well as an express card that earns students a free small meal when charged with $25.
“We’ve learned from our mistakes. Our prices are lower, the food is better and we have narrowed our menu down.” George said. “For 10 years now, we have served Halal chicken because there was a demand for it.”
Every detail of George’s passion project is scrutinized, even the look of the restaurant.
“We’ve changed our look about 6 times, and the artwork was done by Uber5000, the Toronto graffiti artist. He did the walls for us,” said George.
As George looks back at how the business has grown, he still has both the passion and the drive to ensure that his pride of joy never diminishes, saying “I’m still trying to grow the business while still maintaining the ma-and-pa food service.”