The Jamaican Jerk Villa at 737 W. 79th St. Owners have expanded the restaurant to a bar and grill at 642-648 W. 79th St. Credit: Google Maps

AUBURN GRESHAM — Owners of a decades-old South Side staple are expanding their business early next year, giving neighbors another spot to enjoy their cuisine. 

For more than 20 years, Jamaica Jerk Villa owner Peter McKnight and his mother served jerk chicken combos from their location at 737 W. 79th St. 

When the restaurant opened in 2002, all the family had was “a stove and a grill,” McKnight said. 

Now, McKnight is expanding the jerk chicken enterprise in Auburn Gresham, trading in the no-frills location for a “luxurious” bar and grill. 

Neighbors can visit the new 4,600-square-foot Jamaican Jerk Villa Bar & Grill at 642-648 W. 79th St. 

The restaurant is still serving up jerk chicken mixes to-go at the new location for now. But by spring, neighbors will be able to sit down and enjoy their meals indoors with an adult beverage or two, McKnight said. 

“We’re trying to bring something nice and elegant to Auburn Gresham, where people can come, feel safe, eat a meal and be proud of it,” McKnight said.

The Auburn Gresham location will be the family’s second bar and grill, McKnight said. They also own and operate the South Loop restaurant at 2216 S. Michigan Ave.

McKnight steers the South Loop restaurant while his brother and sister-in-law run the 79th Street staple, McKnight said.

Once the expansion is complete by spring, McKnight will switch his focus to the Auburn Gresham bar and grill, continuing the legacy his mother started decades ago, he said. 

“When we started, it was meager. It wasn’t that much,” McKnight said. “It expanded, and people from all over the city came out. The name became a household name, and everyone knows about Jerk Villa. When people hear Jerk Villa, they think of good food. We still hope everyone comes out and supports as usual, and we welcome nearby communities, too.”

In the coming years, the McKnight family will build more businesses in the community, McKnight said. 

The family bought a stretch of buildings on 79th Street and Lowe, across the street from the $35 million Auburn Park Metra station slated for vacant land as soon as 2024, McKnight said. 

They hope to transform one of the buildings, a vacant tire shop, into a coffee shop that serves ice cream in the summer, McKnight said. 

Auburn Gresham gave the family their start, McKnight said. They’ll continue to make sure the community is “on the rise,” McKnight said. 

“We started in Auburn Gresham, and God helped us to expand,” McKnight said. “We’re doing bigger and better things.” 

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Atavia Reed is a reporter for Block Club Chicago, covering the Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chatham neighborhoods. Twitter @ataviawrotethis