Restaurant owner says she gives island-inspired dishes her personal touch

“There are lots of restaurants in this area, including restaurants offering a wide variety of ethnic foods. Unless your food is really good, you won’t make it around here,” observed Cordellia Nalty, owner of Dellia’s Jerk Palace Restaurant on Covington Highway.

Nalty, who has operated the eatery for 12 years said the constant flow of customers is all the evidence she needs that the food is good. “People drive an hour, two hours or more to get food here. They come from Athens, McDonough—all over. There are people coming tomorrow from South Carolina. Even other restaurant owners come here for the food,” she said.

The only complaints she gets, Nalty said, are about the long lines. “No one says they don’t like the food. Sometimes people don’t like having to wait in line for their food, but we’re busy—what can I say?” She previously owned restaurants at two other DeKalb locations, but said she closed them to focus on Covington Highway location.

Nalty first took an interest in the food industry in her native Jamaica where her mother operated a restaurant and bar. “She didn’t teach me to cook. I learned by watching her, then I built on what I learned. I developed my own sauces and seasonings,” she said, adding that while the food is inspired by island classics some dishes are adjusted for American tastes.

“This end of Covington Highway has a very international population and people from all over seem to enjoy this type of food, especially the chicken and seafood dishes,” she said.

“Only between 5 and10 percent of my customers are from the islands. Most of them are Americans and many of them are Africans and Asians. Everyone seems to like this food,” Nalty observed. She said in addition to the food she prides herself in superior customer service. “I train each of my employees personally. I want to make sure they understand how I want my customers treated.”

Nalty said that lately she has done most of the cooking herself. “I had a chef, but since he left I’ve done most of the cooking myself and I will keep doing it until I find another chef who can cook the food the way I want.”

The menu includes such traditional Jamaican foods as curry chicken, brown stew chicken, jerk chicken, oxtails and jerk ribs. “We also have the beef, chicken and vegetable patties that are so popular in Jamaica. People also love the desserts such as the black cake, the pound cake and the pudding,” she said, adding that a variety of island inspired beverages such as mango and passion juice, sorrel juice, coconut water and fruit punch are available. Customers also find island favorites such as ackee and saltfish, cornmeal and banana porridge and banana yam on the breakfast menu.

Nalthy said customers have told her they enjoy the atmosphere in the restaurant, which features a wall-size mural of a Jamaican landscape she said was painted by a Jamaican artist. Other walls show national and international Black luminaries, including Halie Selassie, Marcus Garvey, Usain Bolt, Barack Obama, Malcolm X “and my favorite Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said.

There also are posters with inspirational messages. “I like to give people something to read and think about while they eat,” Nalty said.

Before coming to Georgia, she lived in New York, where she worked a corporate job in addition to operating a popular catering business. “When I decided to leave New York, a friend suggested that I come to Georgia,” Nalty said. “She said the weather is warmer and things move at a slower pace, that I could just take it easy, but I’ve been busy since I moved here.”

Nalty said she is proud that she built the business on her own. “I never went to the bank for a loan. I took the money I had after selling my house in New York and invested it in this business. And the investment has paid off.”

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