Eduardo Island, owner of Cazabe restaurant in Jessup, stands at the bar in the restaurant. “The hospitality industry is my passion,” Island said. “I like to serve.” (TBM / Jason Whong)

Eduardo Island had a vision: Through his love of the culinary arts, honor the ancestral legacy of the Indigenous people of the Dominican Republic, his homeland. 

“That’s why I named the restaurant “Cazabe,” Island says, in reference to the cassava-based bread made by the Taino, the original habitants of Quisqueya, the Caribbean island now shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. 

A carpenter by trade, Island arrived in Maryland in 1982 lured by higher wages in the local carpet industry, after stints in Puerto Rico and Miami. “But in the back of my mind, I was getting ready to have a restaurant. The hospitality industry is my passion. I like to serve,” he said. 

In 2000, Island opened his first establishment, Julita’s Restaurant, in Hyattsville. It was a success. “Business was good. There was an article about us in the Washington Post, and we had good relationships with the local community.” 

After its successful run in Prince George County, Island moved his operation to the current location, 8801 Washington Blvd. in Jessup. “I called with the owners of this property and explained my vision,” he said. “The owner said he wanted to give me an opportunity.” After finalizing the lease details and closing down Julita’s, he finally opened Cazabe in 2009. 

But the beginnings were challenging. 

“We opened in the middle of the recession,” he said. “There was nobody coming into this place.”

Island made the difficult decision to cut personnel and brought his wife, Tomasa, to oversee the kitchen, while daughters Cindy, a visual artist, and Gisselle, who recently graduated with a degree in Business Administration at Bowie State University, managed the restaurant and helped in the back of the house. This arrangement remains to this day.

Cazabe has grown since then, even surviving the challenging times of the pandemic, that forced Island to operate, once again, with a skeleton crew and this time, serving takeout only. 

“There was only one cook and me during the pandemic,” he said. “But I noticed something good from our customers: They would leave us good tips — $50, ‘keep the change,’ sometimes less, sometimes more. They didn’t want us to close.”

The customer’s generosity and a $16,000 grant from Howard County in 2021 kept the restaurant afloat. “I was touched to see the people willing to help a business that was trying to survive.”

Cazabe restaurant in Jessup has a deck with outdoor seating. (TBM / Jason Whong)

Nowadays, Cazabe is thriving, thanks to its family-friendly atmosphere and the richness of its culinary offering. On a recent visit, truckers, salespeople, warehouse workers, travelers coming to and from BWI, were enjoying a hot meal and a piece of the Caribbean at the restaurant. 

“I come here because the seasoning in the food,” said Hernán Cortez, 67, a salesman originally from Colombia who visits the restaurant “at least once a month.” 

“The ambience reminds me of my home country,” he said, “and the care of the staff shows on the presentation and taste of the dishes.”

Cortez was enjoying the goat stew, Island’s signature dish and one of Cazabe’s bestsellers. The menu rounds up with traditional seafood dishes like “Camarones al Ajillo” (shrimp cooked in a coconut milk and garlic sauce), mofongo (smashed plantain mixed with pork or fish), Bistec encebollado (thinly sliced skirt steak with onions and garlic) and traditional Dominican appetizers like fried cheese, Dominican salami, and fried ripe plantains to dip in “mayoketchup,” a mix of ketchup, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce. 

“Cazabe” also offers its namesake bread. “It is not on the menu, but we have it. Just ask the server,” Island said. 

Led by Cindy, Island’s daughter, the waitstaff is attentive and cordial. “I like to talk to the people,” she said. “I like to listen to their stories. I also like to be involved in the operations of the business,” Cindy, 35, added. 

“I love working here,” said Amelia Rodriguez, 30, one of the servers. “You can tell when clients are satisfied by the meal, and it goes beyond the flavor. It’s because they feel like home,” Rodriguez, from Mexico, added. 

A bowl of sancocho is ready to be eaten at Cazabe restaurant in Jessup. (TBM / Jason Whong)

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