Jamaican-born chef Tony Hyde brought a taste of his home to Studio City when he opened Sattdown Jamaican Grill in 2009. Since then, the small restaurant on Ventura Boulevard has frequently generated line-out-the-door waits during lunch and dinner, with customers old and new eagerly waiting to feast on what’s been hailed as some of the best Jamaican food in Los Angeles.
The restaurant’s confident slogan, “Mek yu lik yu finga. Once you sattdown, you b back,” speaks to Hyde’s finger-licking sweet, spicy, tangy flavor combinations — what he dubs “a new vibration of Jamaican flavor.” That flavor has kept a diverse crowd of celebrities, musicians and others from in and around our neighborhood coming through his doors.
“I would consider my cooking homey, gourmet even, because it has a lot of rich flavors,” Hyde says. “I try my best to emulate what my grandmother made back in the country, where we used to cook together when I was a kid.”
He recalls days spent in the kitchen while growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, watching his grandmother prepare meals of oxtail and jerk chicken for his family and occasionally her neighbors. Hyde also rolled up his sleeves to help. “She would bake wedding cakes for anyone who was getting married,” he says. “So I was always rubbing the sugar and butter for her so that she could make the cakes.”
These experiences formed the backbone for Hyde’s career as a chef and restaurateur in the United States, first in New York City and then in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he opened his first big establishment, Tony’s Jamaican Restaurant. Its success led him to open two more locations in the area. But eight years in, Hyde’s burgeoning career came to an abrupt halt when an unfortunate misunderstanding with Border Patrol, which he believes was fueled by racism, landed him in immigration custody for over 11 months.
After securing his release and persevering through a yearlong legal battle, Hyde decided to head west to California to begin anew.
He secured a job at Whole Foods Market in Santa Monica, where he rose through the ranks and became a soup research and development chef. At the same time, he developed and sold what would later become his Sattdown jerk seasoning to restaurants on the side. One of his customers was Friedel Caribbean Cuisine, located in a Studio City strip mall. Hyde remembers the owner repeatedly offering to sell him the restaurant, but he politely declined each time.
It was only after falling out with the managers at Whole Foods that Hyde decided to recreate what he had in Florida and purchased Friedel, taking everything out of his 401(k) to do so.
He changed the name to Sattdown and remodeled the restaurant into a Caribbean beachfront eatery, complete with cloud-paneled sky, partially thatched roof ceiling, lush green plants, tropical motifs of red, yellow and green, and reggae music emanating from speakers.
Strip mall patrons were soon lured in by the intoxicating aroma of fragrant spices. One early customer was Los Angeles Times food writer Linda Burum, who approached Hyde after her meal and told him that she wanted to write a review.
“So she did,” he says, “and then things got crazy. It was insane for six weeks, I’m talking nonstop — people were even fighting for seats! I couldn’t believe the response I got from the review, but I think it was just the fuel I needed to get this restaurant going.”
Hyde says that the rest was history, and that his success is a story of rising up from the adversity he encountered in the past.
“Everything came around full circle. A lot of times, we don’t know exactly what God has in store, but if we allow everything to come together, it’s going to show itself,” he says.
Hyde now has his sights set on the future.
“My ultimate dream is to franchise the restaurant,” he says. “I would feel complete at that point, because, ultimately, we all want to see the things we have created continue and reach their complete potential. To be able to have other people in other cities and states partake and share my recipes would be amazing.”