Faces of Duluth: Tony O’Neil

Tony O'Neil stands in front of Jamrock Cultural Restaurant

Faces of Duluth tells the stories of the people behind Duluth’s iconic attractions, hidden gems and everything in between. Traveling to Duluth? Learn the locals’ tips and tricks for seeing all the city has to offer.

Tony O’Neil is the heart and soul behind Jamrock Cultural Restaurant in downtown Duluth. He brings the flavors of the Caribbean and his grandmother’s recipes to life, providing a place to share delicious food and build community. Another passion of his is football, and this year, he’ll take the field as head coach for Duluth’s new arena football team, the Harbor Monsters. His zest for both food and football are vibrant contributions to the community.

What’s your Duluth story?

I moved to the area after needing surgery on my shoulder, following an injury from playing professional football.

What is the story of Jamrock Cultural Restaurant?

I opened this restaurant as a way to stay connected to my grandmother, who I lost in 2020. I was born in Miami and raised in Jamaica, where my grandparents owned a restaurant. I’ve been cooking since I was nine and learned my Caribbean techniques from my grandmother. She cooked all the time – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – it didn’t matter, she made sure there was food. She watched over me and taught me to shop for fresh ingredients to make the best dishes. All the dishes at Jamrock make me think of my grandma.

Why did you choose downtown Duluth for your location?

I wanted to expand the food options in Duluth and bring Caribbean culture to this area.

What can people expect from your food?

Huge flavor, and likely a difference from what they are used to eating. Jerk-seasoned dishes must be tried to truly understand.

What is your favorite thing to eat from your menu?

Oxtails. It’s a dish that takes time – about six hours to cook – where low and slow and the consistent adding of different spices makes a fantastic finished product.

What do you want people to feel when they eat your food?

I’m trying to take people who have traveled to my family’s country [Jamaica] back to their first experience tasting Caribbean food and introduce jerk flavors to those who haven’t ever been to Jamaica. 

How do you think food can help people bring people together?

Food truly is a cultural experience. We bring everyone together here – people are laughing and talking loudly without a care in the world and bonding over a meal. 

In addition to Jamrock, you have an exciting 2024 coming up as the first-ever head coach of the Harbor Monsters – congratulations! Where does your passion for football come from?

Football saved my life. I played ball since I was able to run. From youth flag football to my first helmet, I followed in my uncle’s footsteps. I didn’t know my father growing up, and Miami was pretty tough. Football kept me super focused on getting good grades to be eligible to play. It helped me get along with my peers and made me understand time management, as well as what it meant to put in the work to see the results I wanted to get.

What are you looking forward to about this inaugural season of arena football in Duluth? What can fans expect?

Arena football is more fast-paced than standard football. There are less players in a smaller space, making a big party with non-stop action and constant crowd interactions. I’m hoping seeing me in this role opens the eyes of all the local schools, showing it’s ok to have Black leadership at the head coaching position.

What else do you enjoy doing in Duluth?

I work a lot, but when I do have free time, I invest that in my children and my football players. I enjoy the summers and taking my daughter to the many lakes to swim and play.

What do you love about Duluth?

The community, the way they stand up for one another. I appreciate all opportunities given and presented, and through the good and the bad, I appreciate everyone.

Posted on February 9, 2024