When Ripton Hunter came to Rochester from Montego Bay, Jamaica in 2005, he knew he wanted to open a restaurant. 

“Cooking has been my first love. I always wanted a Jamaican spot,” Hunter said. 

Hunter owns Three Little Birds Jamaican Food on 651 Jefferson Ave., where he works with his mother Patsy, his aunt and his girlfriend. He is one of many first generation immigrants that brought a slice of his home to Rochester through the food he makes.

With an entire wall lined with shelves holding common sauces like Frank’s Red Hot as well as rare spices imported from New York City, Three Little Birds also doubles as a small seasoning store for those who want to use the same flavors Hunter uses in his own cooking.

Whether you taste the oxtail or the classic Jamaican Jerk Chicken, the classic flavors of Jamaica are front and center with every bite.

Difficulties in Running a Restaurant

Three Little Birds Jamaican Food is located on the corner of Columbia Ave. and Jefferson Ave., a notoriously crime-ridden area in Rochester that features frequently in the local news. Before landing there, Hunter and his realtor looked at a spot on Monroe Avenue but they were was ultimately declined by the owner.

“Everyone was like ‘Don’t go to Jefferson, it’s a bad area,’" Hunter said. "People worry about the violence in Jefferson.”

Despite the street’s checkered reputation, Hunter is happy with his store’s location.

“This is just a gift from God … It’s a nice block for me. Nobody comes to disrespect me or anything,” Hunter said. “It’s just word-of-mouth bad news.”

“Cooking has been my first love. I always wanted a Jamaican spot"

With inflation rates soaring to their highest peak since 1982small businesses like Three Little Birds are being hit hard. 

“When I started four years ago, oxtail was about $4.99 a pound, now it’s $8.99, $9.99, $10.99. Goat went up from $9.99 a bag to $19 a bag,” Hunter stated.

Even the prices of items that are given out for free by restaurants like takeout containers are starting to increase in price, with Hunter paying an extra $54 for a case of takeout containers – $54 that could have been spent buying ingredients or to support himself and his family.  

For a business in a low income area, higher prices can spell a significant loss of customers and profit.

Josiah Dannert is one of the managers at Naan-Tastic, a Chipotle-style Indian restaurant on Marketplace Dr. in Henrietta. Before becoming the manager at multiple Naan-Tastic locations, Dannert managed other restaurant chains, such as Chipotle and the Distillery.

Despite all the time spent in food service, Dannert is cautious to trust the food industry. 

“I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily a lifelong job for anyone. I don’t think anyone, unless they own [a restaurant], should stay in the food industry,” Dannert said. “I probably wouldn’t own a restaurant just because of how much I know it takes to run one.”

The amount of restaurants across the country has climbed to over one million despite hesitation from people in the industry, generating over half a trillion dollars in total sales in 2021. 

How Diverse is Rochester’s Food?

Dannert is not impressed by the amount of diversity in Rochester’s food options. 

“There’s way too many burger and fry joints … I just feel like we have the same thing everywhere,” Dannert said. 

Having diverse food options does not only mean being able to taste different combinations of flavors and spices, but also being able to connect with people from those cultures and backgrounds. Owning a Jamaican restaurant has allowed Hunter to connect more with the Jamaican population in Rochester. 

“I meet so many people from Jamaica. It brings people together. I didn’t know there were so many Jamaicans in Rochester,” Hunter said. “I meet more people, I meet good friends, good customers come.” 

"I don’t think anyone, unless they own [a restaurant], should stay in the food industry"

Cultural diversity brings other benefits besides a variety of food. A paper published in 2016 found that increasing the number of immigrants into a city decreases the rate of violence in that city.

Another study from the Journal on Migration and Human Security also found that first generation immigrants are also less likely to commit crime than someone who is native-born. 

Reporter's Recommendations

Rochester is filled with restaurants that serve a wide variety of foods from different places and cultures. Zemeta Ethiopian Restaurant on South Clinton Ave. has a wide selection of traditional Ethiopian food for an affordable price.

Any place that serves an item called “spaghetti and goat” is a place worth visiting. Somali African Cuisine serves traditional sambusa (similar to an Indian samosa), as well as spaghetti paired with many different types of meat, including steak, chicken drumstick, lamb shank and goat.  

Just Chik’n is located within Jefferson Plaza, just a one or two minute drive from RIT and the Peruvian spices taste better than any fast food chicken available. Their classic combo meal, an entire rotisserie chicken, two sides, a drink and an alfajor cookie for $16 is a great choice after a long day of classes.

Billy’s Homestead, a personal recommendation from Hunter, is a breakfast spot on Empire Blvd. in Webster, NY. Owned by Billy, an immigrant from Greece, Billy's Homestead serves every breakfast item under the sun starting at 6:30am every morning. 

While it is hard for many people to break their comfort food habits, trying foods from different cultures while being able to support first-generation immigrants can create connections that will last a lifetime.