The Legacy of Indy’s Patties of Jamaica
Patties of Jamaica has famously been serving up authentic Jamaican patties in Indianapolis and challenging stereotypes since 1981. New customers first arriving to Patties of Jamaica often secretly wonder the same thing: “Why are Asians making my Jamaican food and calling it authentic?” That’s because, get ready for it…they are Jamaican. I know, it took me a second too. We often make assumptions based on a person’s appearance and it’s good to remind ourselves that things aren’t always as we think them to be!
Here’s a brief history to explain Jamaica’s diverse population and how the Jamaican patty came into existence:
The Spanish arrived to Jamaica via Christopher Columbus in 1494 and claimed the land from 1509-1655. Many Jewish refugees fled to Jamaica from Spain during this time and worked as merchants. Then, the English came and evicted the Spanish. Jamaica was under British rule from 1655-1962. During this time, the English brought with them slaves from Africa to develop the sugar cane plantations and as a result, Africans formed a majority of the population in the 1670s. The Irish were also forcibly moved to Jamaica as war prisoners and indentured servants. When the international slave trade was abolished in 1807, the British began recruiting workers from countries in Asia including India, China, and countries in Southeast Asia.
What is a Jamaican patty?
A Jamaican patty is a meat-filled pastry. The flaky shell contains savory meat with spices influenced by Indian and Africa cuisines. The pastry itself originates as an English cuisine. One theory is that when the English brought these pastries or “pasties” as they were called to Jamaica, the native Jamaican people who spoke Patois (Jamaican Creole) couldn’t pronounce “pasties” and instead they came to be called “patties”.
Mr. Henry Seung and his wife Theresa were born and raised in Jamaica. Mr. Henry taught mathematics and owned an insurance business. His wife was a nurse. Due to an economic decline and a challenging political climate, the Seungs moved their family to the United States. Their son Stefan, who now owns Patties of Jamaica with his wife Jerusha, was seven-years-old at the time.
Mr. Henry missed the enjoyment of eating Jamaican patties. He would drive all the way from Indianapolis to Toronto (over 1,000 miles roundtrip) because that was the closest place he could find his beloved patties. Then one day he had an idea: why not make the patties himself?
So, Mr. Henry began making Jamaican patties for his family and friends in authentic Jamaican style. He was really good at it! Word got out and he found himself with a little side business. He worked full time selling insurance and would stay up all hours of the night making delicious Jamaican patties for a small base of customers. Eventually, as his patties grew more and more popular, he decided to open a storefront and make the patties his full time passion.
Mr. Henry was a nice man and well-loved by the community. He was also very generous and an advocate for education. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see him sitting on his stool at Patties of Jamaica, chatting with customers. His passion for sharing authentic Jamaican patties with the community would carry through until his passing on March 17, 2017 - the 36th anniversary of the restaurant’s opening on March 17, 1981. He lived and breathed his passion.
“Dad carried a spirit of excellence. He was a perfectionist when it came to making patties. When he was teaching us how to make patties, he wanted them done a certain way …he even wanted the spoon held a certain way,” explains Stefan and Jerusha.
Described as a fiercely independent, hard-working man who believed dreams can come true, Mr. Henry continued making patties until a month before he passed. As a result of years of hard work and standing, he suffered a handicap; but, he didn’t let that stop him and he never once complained. He was always upbeat and happy.
Recently, Patties of Jamaica received a fresh coat of paint and updates to its interior aesthetics. You’ll find family photos and pictures of Mr. Henry hung on the walls paying homage to the family legacy.
“He was the spirit of this place,” says Jerusha, “I never want people to forget him.”
Mr. Henry’s son, Stefan and Stefan’s wife Jerusha (who is a nurse just like her late mother-in-law, Theresa), continue the family legacy at Patties of Jamaica. Stefan gets up bright and early to begin making his father’s Jamaican patties fresh from scratch at 3:00 in the morning! He and his three employees make an average of 800 to 1,000 patties every day!
Most of their Jamaican patties are beef-filled. Beef and chicken with vegetable options are available to take home frozen ($13 for a bag of 12), and vegan options can be made-to-order. All their patties are kosher.
Patties of Jamaica is a small, counter-serve spot with a few tables for sitting. They are working towards expanding to offer more seating. They are also working on mass production and distribution. So, there’s a strong possibility that Patties of Jamaica will be delivered to your door in the very near future!
But in the mean time…head over to Patties of Jamaica for delicious, savory Jamaican patties and say hi to the Seung family!
So much fun! :) ...and the patties are delicious!