Prior to his Spicy Jamakin days, Lyle Campbell’s time as a bodyguard led him to work in protection units for the likes of Janet Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Kenny Rogers and AC/DC. It also led to a job as actor Michael Clarke Duncan’s body double and small parts in such movies and TV shows as The X-Files, Stargate and our all-time fave series starring Mandy Patinkin, Dead Like Me.
Photograph by: Leah Hennel/Calgary Herald, Swerve
When Lyle Campbell’s big, silky voice rolls through the wood-lined hall of Symons Valley Ranch, it’s impossible not to smile. Campbell—owner, chef, server and cleaner-upper of The Spicy Jamakin—brightens the new farmers’ market with his energy and charm.
Born in Montreal to Jamaican expats, Campbell grew up with one foot in La Belle Province and the other planted firmly in Caribbean sand. Every few weeks, the young Campbell and his brothers would fly to Jamaica to visit their grandparents, courtesy of their father’s Air Canada employee flight passes. There, he soaked up the Island ways. And back in Montreal, the soon-to-be 6’3” Campbell played every sport he could find—baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, tennis, competitive bowling—and rose through the football ranks to the semi-pro level. But his knees eventually gave out, leading him in other directions.
While working for Canadian Airlines—a topic of keen discussion with his father—he started Cupids Creation, a one-stop wedding shop. He’d always liked to cook, too, so he “fooled around” with his grandmother’s hot sauce. “Dad loved it,” says Campbell. “I told him I’d make a business of it and that became a bet with him. I took the challenge, and the hot sauce was a hit.” He whipped up ribs and jerk dishes, serving them at catered events.
But love brought Campbell to Calgary in 2011 to be with Pamela May, a gal he had known back at Rosemount High in Montreal. Once settled here, Campbell cooked at The Mustard Seed for a year and a half before opening The Spicy Jamakin. “It’s all a mistake,” he says of his business. “I was looking for a way to manufacture my sauces and marinades, and The Spicy Jamakin just happened.”
“I started this business with nothing,” says Campbell of his tasty enterprise. “But people showed faith in me and trusted me and helped me.” He credits the late Derek Davis of Big D’s Smokehouse at the Calgary Farmers’ Market; Darrell Komick, former general manager of Symons Valley Ranch; and Bob Whitworth of Simple Simon Pies for mentoring him. And he acknowledges the many vendors at Symons Valley who helped him through the stressful early days of opening his business. In return, he gives back to them—many get regular servings of his addictive banana bread French toast—and he supports numerous charities, including the Mustard Seed as a volunteer cook.
At The Spicy Jamakin, Campbell produces superb jerk pork; tender, juicy ribs; that French toast (now with a variation that includes Papa Chocolat’s nutella); and those sauces. Everything is served with a laugh and a healthy dose of Campbell’s “love.” It’s Jamaican food “with a twist,” meaning you’ll find jerk burgers, jerk lasagna, jerk poutine, even jerk chicken noodle soup on his menu. “I see things on both sides because I’m from both sides,” he explains.
He’s still looking to manufacture and distribute his sauces and marinades nationally and internationally, but right now, Campbell is happy and comfortable in Calgary and at Symons Valley Ranch. This chapter of his life is far from finished. There will be more great food, many more laughs and much more love.