Jason V. Watts and Stephen Ross are bringing food from across the African diaspora — from jollof rice to jerk chicken to collard greens — to the spot the former home of the high-end Indian restaurant Thali.
The new restaurant, Jazzy’s Soul Kitchen and Lounge, is slated to officially open at the corner of Orange and George in September.
“The menu is meant to bridge the African diaspora. One month, the special will be from Haiti. Another month, the special will be from Ghana,” Watts said.
“We’ve done the research, and we aim to have the most diverse menu in the region. The word ‘diaspora’ is the only way to describe it.”
The Perfect Pair
The 4 Orange St. restaurant combines the event management experience of Watts with the culinary expertise of Ross. Watts has planned events as the founder of the Urban Professionals Network (UPN) for 15 years.
Most recently, Watts organized a block party on Orange Street as a tester for the restaurant’s grand opening. Watts, 39, paid for the DJ out of pocket on Friday, June 25. The block party on Jazzy’s opening weekend will include vendors from the Urban Professionals Network and beyond, who will recover the cost of the event.
Both Watts and Ross grew up in the New Haven area. Ross, who is 42, is a Hamden native and James Hillhouse High School graduate. He started his culinary career at New Haven soul food establishment Sandra’s. He trained formally at the Connecticut Culinary Institute and has cooked at Zinc, Barcelona and Anchor.
Ross founded his own restaurant, Cast Iron Soul, in 2010. In its seven years of operation, it seeded the relationship between Ross and Watts. Watts lived nearby and became a regular at the Congress Avenue restaurant.
Watts is the official owner of Jazzy’s; Ross is the executive chef and manager.
Watts was originally looking for a permanent event space for the Urban Professionals Network during the Covid-19 pandemic. No space quite fit the bill.
Then Watts drove by the former Thali restaurant in October 2020 and realized that a restaurant-plus-event space might just work.
Ross was the first person Watts wanted to partner with, he said.
Watts’ mother, founder of Remember The Lilies Florist, and other family members are investing in and helping out with the business. Watts plans to continue to work full time as a telecommunication manager at another company.
The name Jazzy comes from Watts’ nickname for his daughter, Jasmine, who just finished pre-kindergarten at the Montessori School on Edgewood. Watts is taking inspiration from the floral and musical sides of Jasmine’s names for the restaurant’s decor.
Dinner And A Concert
It’s important to Ross to represent the variety of cuisines on Jazzy’s menu with care, so someone from Nigeria can taste home when they eat his jollof rice.
Ross has personal experience with how picky people are about their home cuisines. His wife’s family is from Jamaica. She is his toughest critic for any food he makes, let alone his jerk chicken.
So Ross promised not to skip any steps for Jazzy’s clientele. To make jerk chicken, he marinates the meat in a dry rub overnight. Then comes the soy sauce marinade. Then he grills the chicken. This is an important step to get the essential smoky flavor in the jerk chicken, he said. The last step is to add sauce.
The whole dish will take roughly 48 hours from start to finish.
Meanwhile, Watts is planning an expansive lineup of entertainment and events for guests to enjoy with dinner. The acts will vary from poetry to comedy to music. Watts also envisions Black business pop-ups, business workshops and guest chef events.
Watts did not want to name the local artists he wants to invite, joking that he would receive hate mail from those he left off the list. He was willing to name an Atlanta-based performer, Saunders Sermons. Watts met the two-time Grammy Award winner at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York ten years ago; the two have stayed in touch.
Watts would likely sell combined dinner and tickets for Sermons’ concert series.
According to Watts, 4 Orange St. will be one of the largest, Black-owned restaurant spaces in New England. One of the dining rooms can hold 30 people and is rentable for private parties.
“My generation hasn’t had a place to go to bump into the who’s who [of our community],” Watts said.
Watts and Ross are hiring servers, hosts, bartenders, kitchen staff and managers. To apply to Jazzy’s, visit this website.