I am the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant mother who cooks almost as instinctively as she breathes. No one ever goes hungry around her. It’s why I had always shied away from Caribbean restaurants: None ever came close to matching Mom’s home-cooked concoctions. But I couldn’t help being curious about the oxtail hummus served with roti at APT 4B, an Afro-Caribbean restaurant in Buckhead. The dish is an amalgamation of one of Mom’s best traditional recipes and one of my go-to snacks.
APT 4B aims for a vibe its owners describe as “your cool friend’s apartment.” Its black brick walls are plastered with photographs made to look like Jet magazine covers, and the soundtrack is driven by Atlanta’s largest collection of vinyl records, with more than 10,000 LPs ranging from Minnie Riperton’s Adventures in Paradise to Bob Marley’s classic Legend album. When I finally arrived to check it out, I met Clive Ruddock, a Jamaican immigrant who is part-owner of this and several other Caribbean-themed Atlanta restaurants—collectively, though unofficially, known as Every1Eats Hospitality Group. He, and later his partners, shared with me the unconventional but remarkable story of their rapidly growing enterprise.
When Ruddock arrived in New York in 2005, he was simply another J-1 visa–carrying student looking for education and employment. The son of a chef, he eventually studied hospitality and tourism management at Monroe College in New York. “Growing up in Jamaica, hospitality becomes a part of you,” he explained. “It’s our leading industry. People come to Jamaica for a good time, and it’s natural for us to welcome them to experience the culture and the way of life.” The Consulate General of Jamaica connected him with Marva Layne, a Jamaican immigrant who had founded some New York restaurants, including a couple called Negril Village, in 2002. Working there as a bartender, Ruddock met her two sons, Sim and Yusef Walker, as well as fellow barkeep Tasha Cyril.
Originally from St. Lucia, Cyril had come to New York to study forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and stumbled into restaurant work. Now director of operations for the Atlanta group, Cyril told me, “I never imagined I would own restaurants. I thought if I don’t do [psychology], I want to work in a spa.” The common thread, she realizes now, was “anything centered around service and people.”
Sim Walker moved to Atlanta in 2013 to open a southern outpost of his mom’s Negril Village, bringing Ruddock and Cyril with him. “I thought I would come here and set up this restaurant and go back and forth between Atlanta and New York,” said Sim. “Slowly but surely, I found myself living in and enjoying Atlanta—it’s a nice change of pace.” (His group eventually dropped their affiliation with Atlanta’s Negril Village due to an ongoing partner dispute.)
Glenn Wilson, a barber by trade, who had known Walker, Ruddock, and Cyril in New York, joined up with his friends after moving to Midtown Atlanta and noticing a familiar restaurant. “I said, Is that the same Negril? I went in, and lo and behold it was.” Wilson’s family is from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, but he also claims Jamaican ancestry. “My family is from Puerto Limón, which is not that far from Jamaica. It’s the reason why there are Black people in Costa Rica, because Jamaicans migrated there to work.”
Sim met yet another partner, Sopeak Pang, who is from Cambodia, at Negril Village Atlanta. Then, with the addition of two chefs—Walker’s brother Yusef and Cyril’s cousin Aliyah Cyril—the team was in place to build a company that would expand modern Caribbean fare options around Atlanta.
In 2018, they opened Ms. Icey’s, named after Sim and Yusef’s late grandmother, which serves mostly traditional Caribbean fare in Decatur. APT 4B, a concept Sim describes as “dinetainment,” opened two years later. Belle & Lily’s (Tasha and Aliyah’s nicknames) opened near Chamblee in 2021 and offers more modern Caribbean brunch fusions. Finally, permitting is underway for a late-spring opening of J’ouvert Caribbean in the new Uptown Atlanta development near Lindbergh.
In addition to the group’s joint ventures, Yusef is a chef mentor at the Chef Apprentice School of the Arts and cocreated Dolo’s Pizza, which he believes is a “pandemic-proof” offering. The pizzas—topped with tropical ingredients like plantains, callaloo, and ackee sauce and originally offered at pop-ups—are now available at Underground Atlanta and State Farm Arena. “My idea came from the trials and tribulations of converting Icey’s menu to a takeout-friendly menu,” said Yusef. “A lot of our menu was too plated.”
And, finally, Wilson is also co-owner of MoreLyfe Juice Co., a juice bar in Southwest Atlanta. “We all have a relentless drive for success because we all come from humble beginnings,” he said. “We want to build for the generations to come.”
When I met Ruddock at APT 4B, he summed up his ambitious team’s long-term goals: “We want to be the largest Black-owned restaurant group in North America, and it’s not just about opening restaurants,” he said. “Here at APT 4B, we have 50 or so employees. That’s 50 families we are feeding. We have about 100 to 110 employees, full-time and part-time, overall. For a young immigrant boy from Jamaica, who would have ever thought?”
Already hungry before meeting up with Ruddock, I devoured the oxtail hummus once I got home. But I wanted to know what my mother thought. “I’m not used to shredded oxtail,” she said, surprise tilting her face. “The roti is very fluffy. I’ve never had hummus before, but it’s all quite tasty . . . I want to try more of the menu.”
I exhaled because I had already concluded the same.
Read the full feature: Atlanta’s Caribbean Vibes
This article appears in our May 2023 issue.