On any given day, Jeffeary Miskiri—“Chef Jeff” to most—is ready to spring into action. You might find the 34-year-old restaurateur jumping into the kitchen of Po Boy Jim, his flagship on H Street, Northeast, which turns out New Orleans–style sandwiches and gumbo. Or serving tables at his newer venture, Creole on 14th, in Columbia Heights. (He also drops by when a VIP appears—the latest was Sasha Obama.) Short a bartender, he can mix a hurricane on a whim.
Miskiri’s hard work has paid off, even at a time when independent restaurants are struggling all over the country. In October, the Takoma Park native—who in the past has prepared fitness-focused meals for former NFL star Vernon Davis and acted as a private chef for the Jamaican ambassador—opened Suga & Spice, a cozy Southern/Caribbean eatery in Hyattsville that pays tribute to his family’s Louisiana and Caribbean roots. Over the next year, Miskiri Hospitality Group will triple in size, going from 80 to 200-plus employees, with the opening of five new restaurants. He’s planning a fast-casual Po Boy Jim in Columbia; Miss Toya’s Creole House, a huge Southern spot in Silver Spring; and two adjoining eateries in what’s long been known as a food desert east of the Anacostia River. The health-minded cafe Miss Toya’s Soul Juice and the comfort-food restaurant Miss Toya’s Southern Cajun Kitchen—a rare sit-down restaurant in the Penn Branch neighborhood—will open next year in the Shops at Penn Branch, a revitalization project from developer Jair Lynch. Someday, Miskiri hopes to expand the empire beyond Washington.
The youngest restaurateur to sit on the board of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, he got an early start. At ten, he was frying nuggets at McDonald’s, where his aunt was a supervisor under one of the chain’s first Black franchisees in Washington. “It really surprised me to meet an African American owner of a McDonald’s,” says Miskiri, who notes that the early experience influenced how he operates now. “The structure, the uniform, the policies in place, the code of ethics, getting food out in a timely manner—that stuff stays with you.”
As a teenager, he started cooking at his family’s catering company, Taste of Caribbean. But Miskiri, the second-eldest of 30 grandchildren, got his real start cooking at family gatherings: huge buffets that catered to their Southern and Caribbean roots with jambalaya, jerk chicken, plantains, shrimp and grits, and gumbo. “Everyone had their role and responsibility—I was the chef,” he says. “My culinary training was the family.”
This article appears in the November 2021 issue of Washingtonian.