Munchie’s, located on 307 Irvington Ave., is an establishment with an extensive array of authentic Jamaican dishes such as Jamaican patties, jerk chicken and oxtail.
Husband and wife pair Reid Taylor and Sophia “Munchie” Taylor opened the restaurant in May 2010. They took over the business from previous owners in January and had only four months to get Munchie’s up and running. Being so close to Seton Hall, the Taylors had expected to have a large portion of their patrons consist of students, and after opening, were disappointed to see little business from them. “I imagined we’d get a lot of traffic from Seton Hall,” Reid said.
“I imagined that for what we represent: something with more flair, something a little off the norm. We’re not tacos, we’re not pizza, we’re not hamburgers. When I try to imagine myself as an underclassman, I would basically live here.”
Most of the customers at Munchie’s are South Orange residents, who are often familiar with Jamaican culture. Reid said that the Seton Hall students who do visit the restaurant are often of Jamaican or Caribbean background, and thus have been previously acquainted with the style of cooking.
Approaching its 10th anniversary, Munchie’s is a 10-minute walk from campus, but many Seton Hall students do not even know it exists. Its owners hope Seton Hall students will learn of the restaurant and become loyal patrons, expanding their palate to become fans of authentic Jamaican cuisine.
Reid’s explanation for the low numbers of SHU customers is his belief that Irvington Avenue has acquired a negative reputation among the student body. According to Reid, he has heard from some student customers that students are “discouraged from going to Irvington Avenue.”
Reid said this reputation is unwarranted, as he feels that Irvington Avenue is safer than the other busy streets frequented by Seton Hall students.
Caroline Pascasio, a freshman nursing major, was unfamiliar with Munchie’s and does not frequently visit restaurants on Irvington Avenue. Yet, Pascasio had not heard any complications made specifically about Irvington Avenue.
“I think it’s just because South Orange Avenue has a reputation of being the place you go to and the SHUFly goes there,” Pascasio said. “It seems like Irvington Avenue is just something we don’t talk about.”
She said, “I’ve personally never heard of Irvington Avenue as being something that’s unsafe, I think maybe people associate Irvington Avenue with Irvington, and that area might be seen as unsafe.”
Reid, a fan of all aspects of Jamaican culture, took careful consideration in designing the restaurant’s interior and has curated unique Jamaican décor.
“When it came time to develop a theme for the décor, we wanted to hit on bright colors because that’s all part of the Jamaican aspect,” Taylor said. “People in Jamaica will paint the exterior of their house pink. We wanted to be reflective of that, and also the joy and gaiety it brings.”
The dining tables, protected by a glass surface on top, house decorations including Jamaican currency, vinyl discs of Jamaican artists and stamps from the island nation. Above the counters are shingles cut and painted to resemble a building motif common in Jamaica.
The restaurant’s namesake Sophia “Munchie” Taylor is an integral component of the establishment’s appeal. Many customers, according to Reid, view Munchie as essential to their dining experience, so much so that some patrons will leave to come back later if Munchie herself is not present. Like her husband, Munchie hopes more students will visit the restaurant in the future.
Munchie said, “What I enjoy about Seton Hall Students is they pride themselves on Seton Hall. They always come in a group, and there’s always one who’s been familiar with Jamaican culture and they say, ‘Hey you should try this, this is good.’ Or ‘Miss Munchie, I’ve been coming here for years.’ So they always try to have a conversation with me.”
Liam Brucker-Casey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.