What do you get when you STIR heart, flavors, passion, family, and service together? You get to the culinary heart of Atlanta. Vivian Compton, owner of STIR (formerly Stir it Up) has been literally stirring things up in Atlanta.

Since 2008, Vivian has been offering an original and edible celebration of her culture—every menu item is inspired by a collection of family recipes leading back to their origins. Check out her journey from a restaurant to a food truck to pop-up and catering, and see what she has to say about what puts the “jerk” in jerk chicken.

How did you get your start with Stir It Up?

My husband and I loved to cook. When we noticed that all family events revolving around food were hosted at our house, we thought we should try our hand at opening a restaurant that could blend the cultures of our families and not just pay homage to, but honor our diverse heritage.

Is the name a nod to the Bob Marley song, “Stir It Up”?

A lot of our customers think so, but the restaurant name has nothing to do with the song. We chose it as a description of Jamaica’s culinary history, a stirred-up fusion of Chinese, Jamaican, Indian, African, Asian and Spanish influences. “Out of many, one people” is the nation’s motto and lettered on our restaurant wall. You’ve recently closed your restaurant doors to focus solely on pop-ups and catering—what prompted this decision?

It was a family-focused decision. People assume the restaurant business is easy—maybe it’s our fault for making it look easy. The 16-hour days, 7-days a week wears on a family. We wanted to bring the “life” back into work-life balance. We wanted to live and enjoy our lives. I continued to run Stir It Up with just my sons, who have been in the business since we started, for three years after my husband and I divorced.

I asked my sons, “where do you want to go?” This started the conversation and we learned that while we loved being known as a Jamaican restaurant, we wanted to pull in all of our rich cultural heritage and share it with Atlanta. They had the idea to start a food truck, and it just felt right. A food truck lets us make our food more accessible to more people. This is when STIR was born. STIR is about the fusion of all our cultures.

What are your best-selling dishes?

Our customers love the traditional stuff, but fusion dishes are very popular. Customers go crazy for any dish that starts with “jerk” – like our Jamaican jerk roll, jerk tacos, jerk spring roll, curry chicken egg roll, or jerk chicken pasta.

We jerk everything—Don’t be a jerk, just eat it.

We jerk everything—Don’t be a jerk, just eat it

We make all our own sauces in-house, rubs are crafted from scratch with both sweet and spicy versions. We’re continually evolving as we respond with our big island hearts—accommodating vegans, gluten free, and all types of eaters.

Can you share your family’s jerk technique with our readers?

The most common question we get is, “how do you make jerk chicken?” Not everyone does it right. Most customers are surprised to learn it’s actually the technique of smoking chicken over pimento-infused wood that makes it “jerk”, and not the spices. We make our own rub that you can also make at home, using a blend of scotch bonnet, thyme, allspice, and nutmeg. Mix it, rub it over your chicken, and let it soak for 24-48 hours. Sometimes we’ll inject the rub into the chicken to really amplify the flavor.

Then, smoke the chicken over the infused wood for 3-4 hours. When you smoke chicken, it turns a reddish pink color inside – some customers don’t realize this. After the chicken is smoked, we add our homemade sweet and spicy jerk sauce.

What’s a common misconception about Jamaican food?

People think everything is spicy, but jerk is the only thing meant to be spicy. The spice comes from the scotch bonnet pepper and it’s a different level of heat than most Americans are used to. When customers request their dish’s spicy, we always make sure they’re okay with “Jamaican spicy”.

Stir It Up was a celebrity hot spot! Who has visited?

Who hasn’t? It’s funny, the hashtag, #everybodyeatshere started popping up, and it’s true! All the local food celebrities, Charles Barkley, Chadwick Boseman, Kasim Reed, the mayor, every council person, and all the basketball players, especially if there was a game that night.

What kind of food were you raised on?

Filipino and Haitian food—mostly Filipino food, so that’s what’s in my heart. I was born in Germany and raised in the Philippines and Europe. My mother was strict and made sure I knew how to cook for myself. In our culture, meals are a time when women come together to cook. They’re a time of love and friendship, and for getting to know the people around you. I want to bring the same happiness and joy to STIR customers.

What do you cook for your children/family?

At home, we eat the same things we cook at the restaurant, we’re constantly switching it up. My Haitian father is showing me more Haitian cooking techniques – there are so many things I want to learn! As we learn and evolve at home, our menus will keep changing.

What advice do you have for restaurant owners looking to try pop-ups and catering?

Preparation is everything, let your personality shine through, and have fun! Infusing your brand with personality along with good marketing really helps get your name out there.

Some pop-up and catering operators falter at customer service. This needs to be on-point! When customers visit our pop-ups they get the same high-energy cheerful staff as they would if they walked into our restaurant. We just want to make you smile.

As an artist, what drives your creativity?

Mostly our travels. When we’re traveling, we get to try lots of different foods and then have fun coming home to recreate and put our own spin on these dishes.

A soulful and heartfelt thanks to Vivian for giving us a peek into the cultural mosaic of her delicious food at STIR. Go see their smiling faces at one of their pop-ups.