“Durango needs another burger or taco place like a hole in the head,” said Chris Turner.
For some, those may be fighting words, but they are one of the core reasons Turner and his partner, Alexa Alfonsi, opened their Jamaican food truck, Juicy’s Shanty, on July 1 outside the Powerhouse Science Center on the Animas River Trail.
“We thought the food in this town was ... mediocre is kind,” Turner said. “And we wanted to fix that – give Durango a different kind of flavor.”
For those not in the know, Jamaican food tends to have a sweet heat, Alfonsi said.
“It’s a very rounded type of heat,” she said. “It’s not going to burn your face off.”
“It’s enough to make your forehead sweat and your mouth hot, but you can’t stop,” Turner said. “It’s savory, too. Our stewed ox tail is like a pot roast, but it’s got those Jamaican notes – allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon.”
He said he was exposed to Jamaican food from a young age, frequently traveling to the island.
The name “Juicy’s Shanty” comes from a family member in Negril, who had the nickname “Juicy.” He served juices, beer, snacks and Ital (vegan food celebrated by the Rastafari movement).
“We wanted to make the homage to him and kind of carry the torch, so we started this little island jerk shack,” Turner said.
Everything on the menu is made from scratch in the truck, he said.
“We’re either extreme meat or extreme vegan,” he said.
Ninety percent of the food is vegan, including all of the sides (except for the Mac-n-Cheese) and all of the sauces, he said.
But Turner said he has also been smoking meat since he was 16 years old and has been a pit boss and a chef with classical training in French, German, Italian, Thai and Mexican cuisine.
Turner plans to do Texas-smoked briskets, jerk-smoked brisket and applewood-smoked Carolina-style brisket out of the food truck, which – at least in the beginning with serve both Jamaican food and barbecue.
“The whole idea is to have the Jamaican and the barbecue truck be the same thing and then split them off eventually,” he said. “And then make other trucks down the line. We want to do a Mediterranean truck – do like Lebanese spit and Greek yogurt-marinated things with rice and kebabs and all that. And we want to do something Thai down the road, too.”
Turner and Alfonsi envision transforming the space outside the Powerhouse, which is also the home of The Soup Palette and Thimbleberry Smoothie Co., into a space with live music and the like.
“We’re trying to make a space where somebody that lives here can come down and hang out,” Alfonsi said. “I want you to be able to come here, eat a plate of food – that you have some leftovers with – and not break the bank.”
Turner, an assistant director in the directors guild of America, said he and Alfonsi had been working in the television and film industry in Brooklyn, New York, for 10 years – up until they were laid off in March 2020.
“We used that as our jumping off point, really,” Alfonsi said. “Here’s a sign from the universe to get out there.”
The couple had traveled to Durango and Pagosa Springs frequently over the previous decade, and Turner has worked on a pilot in Mancos. But they had both grown tired of the industry, he said.
The work behind the camera paid off, partly at least, in the dichotomy that has emerged between Turner and Alfonsi, who was a set production assistant. While he takes care of the flavors, she takes care of the customers.
“We both worked with high-profile actors for a long time,” he said. (“Pain-in-the-butt profile,” she interjected.) “And I got tired of it, honestly – I don’t want to talk to people like that. She dealt with Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg on ‘Blue Bloods’ for the last three seasons, so it was like second nature.”
“It’s just easy to be a happy camper,” Alfonsi said. “It’s even easier knowing that this is our world.”
Turner said he loves being part of a kids’ science center, but also wants to cater to adults. He hopes to eventually get a liquor license and have a BYOB-type of situation with a corkage fee.
“Who eats jerk chicken without drinking a Guinness Extra Stout or a Red Stripe or a rum drink?” he said.
He would also like to provide cooking classes at some point, he said.
If the art on the truck looks familiar, it might be because it is being painted by local artist Parker Ledford, who also did the wolf mural on North Main Laundry. The exterior of the truck will depict Ice Lake in the back with a small island in the middle with the shanty on it and the Milky Way above it. In front, the truck looks like the facade of the shanty with the reflection of the mountains around Ice lake in the water behind it.
“We are wandering art now,” Alfonsi said.
Juicy’s Shanty is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday at 1333 Camino del RIo.