For over three decades, Catherine Malcolm and her husband, Desmond, have operated Jerk Machine, which has two Broward County locations. The Jamaican restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1989.
The Jerk Machine is beloved for its jerk-spiced pork and chicken, curry goat, and stew peas, but also for its philanthropic endeavors. The Malcolms have a long history of giving back to the community — everything from a culinary training program for at-risk youth to supplying meals for Homeless Hearts and Aiding AIDS, Inc.
"For so many years, Jerk Machine has been a nice place to go to pick up a warm meal with good service, and how it makes a feel a part of your culture and see other ethnic groups come together," Rose Marie Lewis, a longtime Lauderhill resident and friend, tells New Times. "It's something a lot of people have grown up with, so when you see hard time comes it makes you stop and think how fragile everything is."
Jerk Machine has survived countless ups and downs over the years — from hurricanes to economic downturns — but the pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll.
"COVID-19 has been the straw that broke the camel's back," Catherine Malcolm tells New Times. "When our landlord gave us two weeks' notice, I knew I had to do something. I never thought I would be in a place where I'd need to ask for help."
GoFundMe spokesperson Claudia Curiel says 60 percent of all fundraisers started in the U.S. between March and August have been for small businesses.
"GoFundMe has seen an immense amount of global activity as communities band together in fundraising efforts for those who have been left vulnerable as a result of the pandemic," Curiel says. "Through these last nine months, we have continued to see an increase in campaigns for restaurants and their staff who have been laid off due to the closures and social distancing measures in place."
Over the past two weeks, the Jerk Machine crowdfunding campaign has received contributions from more than 300 donors, raising over $21,000 toward its $50,000 goal.
Malcolm says she is overwhelmed by the community's support. Since launching the campaign, the restaurant — normally open 365 days a year — has generated enough income to pay the past-due bills and back rent.
"Now people are coming to us, not only with financial support, but also their prayers and conversation to lift me up and let me know they care," she says. "That is more than anything else that I could have ever asked for."
Despite the recent show of support, the restaurant continues to struggle.
"People are reaching out and want to know how they can help, and we're grateful for anything," Malcolm says. "But it's not just about paying rent. I want to stay a part of the community, operating in more than just survival mode. This is not just about Jerk Machine. It's about the people."
If the GoFundMe goal is met, funds will be used to do more than cover ongoing operating expenses, the restaurant owner says. It will also allow her to fund an incentive program aimed at giving employees — many of whom have worked at the restaurant for more than 20 years — part ownership of Jerk Machine's Lauderhill location. "We were ready, then COVID hit and put everything in shambles," she adds ruefully.
"As a black- and woman-owned business, I want my legacy to be passing this company on to other generations through my employees and their families. I've put everything that I have to make this business work for over 30 years. If we close, that promise — and that dream — goes away. That possibility is no longer there for them."
Jerk Machine. 261 NW 12th St., Fort Lauderdale; 754-779-7016; jerkmachine.com.