ST. PETERSBURG — When Taste of the Islands opened on 34th Street in 1992, Yvonne Thompson said she wasn't sure it had been a good idea to get into the restaurant industry.
It took five years for her to be convinced.
"It's hard work," she said. "When we opened first we thought we made a mistake."
Thompson left working as a nurse in England 25 years ago to start a restaurant in the United States with her mother and brother. Now the restaurant that's come to be known for its Caribbean delicacies like jerk chicken, oxtail and curry goat is looking to expand, starting with a new location across from Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg.
The new location at 364 First Ave. N, previously Tony's Corner Chicken & Grill and for 60 years before that Gilbert Jewelers, is managed by her nephew Leo Anderson, who moved down from New York with the idea to make the restaurant a franchise.
Thompson said for now, they'll see how the downtown location — just 4 miles from its original location — fares, as they hope to target lunchtime office workers and USF students downtown.
"As far as the food is concerned, we'll remain the same and authentic," Anderson said.
Anderson is the third generation of the family-owned-and-run business to be involved. The property was bought from a family friend who sold Tony's to look after another business.
Thompson said one of the most rewarding aspects of staying in the industry so long is seeing repeat customers return. Now she said she sees the children of those who used to come in as school-age children when the restaurant first opened.
"The best part is to see customers satisfied," she said. "And before they eat, when they take photos and put it on Facebook and whatever-book."
Anderson said while they hope to expand their clientele, they will try keep the feel true to its origins.
"The ambience remains the same," he said. "The Jamaican vibe is always here."
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.