GREEN BAY (NBC26) — Nemard "Derron" Wilson’s story started with a dream: to own his own business in America. From grilling in backyards, to driving a food truck all over Green Bay, the Jamaica native has always wanted to bring a taste of his home to the city.
"It's all about family, and that's how it's always been in Jamaica," said Wilson. "That's how it's always been with me, coming here to America. If I say hello to you or we share a conversation, something tells me that you're family now, so I treat you likewise."
Wilson owns Lil Jamaica with his girlfriend, Janel Johnson. A Wisconsin native herself, she says the community has welcomed Wilson, and his food, with open arms.
"Usually they're really happy to know that a Jamaican is here in Wisconsin," she said.
But for Wilson, the journey has not always been easy. Working late hours at a bar when he first came to the U.S., and after years of making this dream come true, some people are still shocked when they find out he's the owner of Lil Jamaica, he said. With February being Black History Month, he reflected on the experiences he's had since making this country his home.
"At some point, you're looked down upon because you're black, and you're not expected to do good and give back and have something that works," said Wilson. "But if you feed off that negative vibe that you're always getting, it's like putting negative to negative, you can't get electricity. You got to put a positive to negative."
Since the lounge opened in June, business has been good, despite another challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People wanted something different, and they were able to come here and get something different," said Johnson.
With an open stage for musicians, poets and comedians, and Reggae music playing through the speakers, Lil jJmaica provides an escape, said Wilson.
"You don't have to get an expensive plane ticket to go on vacation anymore," he said, laughing. "You can have a vacation right here in Green Bay."
He hopes he can be an inspiration for the black community at his business and the city he calls home.
"I think this is an opportunity to say, we can be a part of something, and we can make a statement," said Wilson. "People really acknowledge that when you do something good and you make a change, doesn't matter how small it is, it means something."
Lil Jamaica is open Tuesday through Saturday. The food truck is open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the lounge stays open until midnight.