INDIANAPOLIS — Reggae wine, food and vibes can be found under the tiki hut at Da Blue Lagoon: Jamaican Kitchen in Lawrence.
The restaurant's owner, Graham Levy, said his Jamaican restaurant is like "a vacation without the expense."
"The whole theme of the Da Blue Lagoon is if you've ever been to the Caribbean before, the moment you approach the restaurant — and definitely when you come through the door — it takes you right back," Levy said of his establishment's vacation vibes.
"The music, the vibrancy, the decor, the colors, the scenery from different places in Jamaica, the popular people, like Bob Marley and Usain Bolt; it's like a vacation without the expense of the trip. And then, of course, some amazing food to boot."
"Back Then ...
... I was working as a full-time engineer in the corporate world. And my life was basically 8-to-5 engineering, 5-to-midnight at Da Blue Lagoon. Did it for six years got burned out," Levy said, recalling the first several years of being a business owner.
Indianapolis residents are no strangers to Da Blue Lagoon.
In existence since 2005, Da Blue Lagoon first opened in Broad Ripple, where they were located until 2010. After closing up shop, it went mobile and transitioned into food trucks and catering. Then, almost four years ago, it re-opened a brick and mortar, but this time in the Oaklandon neighborhood in Lawrence.
"It's my hometown!" Levy said of relaunching his Jamaican restaurant in Lawrence.
"I've lived in this neighborhood since 1998, and I kinda saw a niche for something like this ... So we thought it would be a good and welcome addition to the food scene here in Lawrence."
Two years after reopening, Travel Noire named Da Blue Lagoon the best Caribbean food in Indiana. Levy attributes the designation to his work connecting the community with authentic Caribbean culture and entertaining customers with a vibrant atmosphere. Some would argue though that Da Blue Lagoon's flagship of jerk chicken, the "Island Trio," butter beans, curry goat, and Jamaican Patties is arguably still the best part of the Jamaican kitchen.
Da Blue Lagoon food trucks can be found almost anywhere. Prior to the pandemic, Levy said they had a healthy schedule consistent with downtown conventions on Georgia Street and corporate luncheons.
From April to October during the pandemic, however, the food truck business has been forced to change lanes, but it didn't slow down.
"With the pandemic and the stay-at-home order from the governor, a lot of neighbors and a lot of apartment complexes have requested the food truck for lunch and dinner services," Levy said. "So we saw a pretty hefty increase in food truck business."
Takeout and delivery business has, of course, increased as dine-in business was mostly prohibited throughout the year. But it also increased as many Americans rallied in support of racial justice this past summer.
Following protests against police brutality often aimed at people of color, and Black Americans in particular, people tried to show their support with money, whether through donations or buying goods from Black-owned businesses.
"It's unfortunate that we have things like that happening," Levy said, referring to the deaths of Minneapolis' George Floyd and Louisville's Breonna Taylor, two Black Americans killed at the hands of police that resulted in protests in dozens of cities across the country.
"But the support from everyone in general — it wasn't just the African American community — was very good. People came in, and they were very deliberate and very obvious in saying, 'Hey, we're here to support you. We understand what you're going through.' And that definitely helped to keep us afloat. So we appreciate it, and thanks to everybody that supported that cause."
Being a Black entrepreneur "means a lot" to Levy, who has seen the challenges other minority-owned businesses around him have faced over the last 16 years.
"Being a Black business owner, it definitely means something. We have been around since 2005, and we've seen the transition in different cuisines and the challenges that different businesses have experienced being minority businesses. So to be here for that long period of time — with that longevity — it means a lot," Levy said of his journey. "We definitely appreciate our customer base, which is a very diverse customer base, because, without them, we wouldn't be here."
"Post-pandemic, we want to take it back to pre-pandemic and then some," Levy said, smiling.
Da Blue Lagoon will be extending its immediate walkway and creating an outdoor seating area. According to Levy, the newly paved patio will be open to seat about 30 people at the start of the spring season.
With that, a "Help Wanted" sign that hangs on the door signals an even brighter future, as Levy continues to provide employment opportunities for individuals inside and outside of the community.
"It's not just about the food, or the entertainment, or the culture but to be a positive contributor to the community," Levy said.
"There are obviously people or customers out there who feel like we are doing something right, and they continue to patronize, and we love them for that," Levy said, beaming with gratitude.
Da Blue Lagoon: Jamaican Kitchen
11705 Pendleton Pike
Tuesday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Saturday: 12 p.m. - 10 p.m.