All of Justin Tisdall’s fondest food memories are about gathering around food. From going for ice cream with his dad and brother after baseball games to attending barbeques during the hot Toronto summers to massive family dinners with his wife Sameena’s sizeable Pakistani family, it’s all about coming together, eating good food, and creating core memories. That’s where the idea of Juke Fried Chicken came from. “You can come and be comfortable and have a great time and enjoy the vibes,” he says. “Comfort food and great music are what Juke’s is based on – those are two things that can bring people from different backgrounds together.”
Opened in July 2016 in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Juke Fried Chicken is a creation of Tisdall and Bryan Satterford, his business partner and friend of 15 years who is also the chef. Described on their website as “the reason the chicken crossed the road,” the menu offering is elevated yet fun, compromising the city’s best southern-inspired fare featuring gluten-free, non-GMO-grain fed free-range fried chicken and sticky pork ribs, chicken and waffles with a jalapeno and chipotle maple drizzle, seasonal snacks such as chicken skins and mac and cheese, salads, and sides like cornbread and fried Brussel sprouts. On the first of each month, the restaurant releases a new flavour of ribs, and February’s flavour is Jerk, featuring a spicy sauce packed with allspice, ginger, garlic, lime, cilantro, and scotch bonnet peppers.
Tisdall entered the food service industry in what can be considered a non-traditional way. Born and raised in Toronto, the restaurateur and entrepreneur initially made his way west to compete as a competitive swimmer while attending the University of British Columbia. “Being on the National Team at the time didn’t cover the cost of living, so I needed to get a job that worked around my training schedule,” he explains. “I began working evenings in restaurants and extended my athletic mentality of always trying to be the best at what I do and applied that approach to bartending and restaurant service. Food was a whole new world to me – learning about wine and spirits and sauces – I dove into it.”
With a focus on learning from the best in the industry, Tisdall spent time at Feenie’s, founded by Executive Chef Rob Feenie, worked at the Market by Michelin Star Chef Jean-Georges at the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver and as the General Manager at Chambar. However, he noticed the places he wanted to go out and have fun in – not quite a restaurant, but not quite a club – didn’t exist in Vancouver yet. It was during a trip to London that Tisdall and his wife stumbled upon a traditional Indian restaurant with a modern take-out counter that he realized he could make that concept work in Vancouver and approached Satterford with his business plan. “I pitched him the idea of me taking off my suit that I wore at work and him taking off his Chef whites and making good quality food,” he says, “but in our environment – where we can build a house where people want to come and hang out.”
In 2020, when dining rooms were closed during the pandemic, the two were forced to adapt their business model, and in a twist of fate, The Chickadee Room was born. “The Chickadee Room was what Juke’s dining room was originally supposed to be,” says Tisdall. “We finally got the opportunity to give our cocktail and snack bar its identity.” Located next door to Juke Fried Chicken, The Chickadee Room is an 80’s inspired cocktail and snack bar serving Juke’s menu. The bar features specialty cocktails such as Tainted Love – a Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon-based drink with Lillet, Cynar, strawberry, cacao, & coffee bitters. The bar has also developed a monthly charity program called Cocktails for a Cause, where proceeds go directly to supporting the community. In recognition of Black History Month, $1 from every cocktail in February will be donated to Vancouver’s Black Library, a safe space that offers resources for and by People of Colour.
At home, Tisdall loves to cook with Sameena and his two children, ages three and four. “Right now, it’s kind of anything the kids will eat,” he laughs. “But I like to make burgers from scratch with them so they can get their hands dirty and be involved in the whole process.” The family also loves making curry dishes, taught by his mother-in-law. “I hope our kids remember we took the time to cook with them because those are special memories in my past as well,” he reminisces.
As for the future, Tisdall is always looking for different ways to expand the brand, whether brick and mortar, entering grocery stores, or even different types of finer dining establishments. “Whatever gives us the freedom to be a cool and independent restaurant owner – that was always the goal from the start,” he says. “Food has always been a huge part of my history and culture, and I feel that’s how you can communicate through language barriers – when you share a part of yourself.”