Chef of New AC Restaurant Learned as a Hungry Kid That ‘Food is Magic’

Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson brings his passion to the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson admires a platter of food

“I already love being part of the Atlantic City excitement,” says chef Wenford Patrick Simpson, who opened The Simpson Restaurant & Bar Atlantic City this month on the Boardwalk. Photo: Wenford Patrick Simpson

Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson’s journey has taken him from the shores of Jamaica to one of the Jersey Shore’s crown jewels: Atlantic City. His restaurant, The Simpson Restaurant & Bar Atlantic City, soft-opened on June 1 on the Boardwalk.

Chef Simpson’s second eatery takes its cues from his buoyant original, The Simpson Restaurant and Bar Brooklyn, set alongside the Barclays Center. “The energy in Brooklyn is unbelievable,” Simpson says. “Atlantic City has that kind of spirit—people chasing good times. And the perfect, feel-good food is my blend of Jamaican, barbecue and soul food.”

Chef Simpson’s life wasn’t always so on-track. He grew up very poor in a small town in Jamaica, where his single mom worked two jobs. He and his younger sister slept on bare mattresses on the floor. Sometimes the money didn’t stretch to food shopping. “I’d go to our neighbors’ and pretty much beg for our dinner,” Simpson recalls. “I tried to cook for my sister and me but didn’t know how. One time I accidentally dumped a lot of curry into cabbage and rice. I was ashamed, but we had nothing else to eat.”

Simpson was hungry almost all the time. “At my school’s careers day, I chose the food and nutrition track,” he says. “I learned how to cook for my sister and me. It made me proud of myself. From that time on, I’ve believed that food is magic.”

The young cook kept honing his craft. His high school internship at a hotel restaurant turned into his first job. “I was a prep chef, peeling and chopping potatoes and onions,” he says, “but I moved up the kitchen line.”

After high school, Simpson cooked on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, with 10 restaurants serving “every culinary style you can imagine,” he says. “I learned them all.” Over the next decade, he rose to executive sous-chef. Next, he supervised dining operations on a Disney ship with over 100 kitchen workers. “Passengers would say they’d never had more flavorful Caribbean food,” he says.

In his thirties, Simpson wanted to shake things up. He relocated to the Bronx, where he had family. He became the ranking chef in Manhattan restaurants: a Jamaican spot, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and music clubs B.B. King’s and The Blue Note. “By this time,” he recounts, “I was cooking at parties and events for the Clintons, the Obamas and the Carters—that’s Beyoncé and Jay-Z. But Covid came around, and everything got quiet.”

Simpson started dreaming about his own restaurant. He envisioned “a very social meetup place where Jamaican-Americans, or any New Yorker, could come and feel like part of a community,” he recalls. “There would be screens to watch your team, a great bar and plenty of date-night tables for two. I could almost hear the laughing and the joking,” he says. “My menu would be classic Jamaican, plus jerk and barbecue and soul food, too—every dish with the Simpson signature spark.”

That fantasy restaurant slowly came to be. A real-estate broker Simpson knew showed him a promising space in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. “I knew it was special,” he says, “but I needed a loan. Borrowing from a bank was not for me. Instead, I reached out to friends and family.” The place took flight as Simpson Restaurant & Bar BK. “I put the word out and offered a discount to diners my team brought in,” he says. “The restaurant was a big success.”

Simpson knew he had a winning formula and wanted to expand. “I always liked Atlantic City,” he states. “New Jersey is multicultural and food-loving—great folks to cook for. And there was no destination Jamaican restaurant nearby, just takeout.”

Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson cuts a ribbon to celebrate the opening of his Atlantic City restaurant alongside his mom and Alsion Wilson, New York's Consul General of Jamaica

Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson (center) celebrates the opening of his Atlantic City restaurant alongside his mom (in pink) and Alsion Wilson (in yellow), New York’s Consul General of Jamaica. Photo: Courtesy of Simpson Restaurant & Bar Atlantic City

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Turns out that Simpson likes doing business in Atlantic City, where he feels people are “straightforward, honest and direct. No BS.” As a chef, he’s been bowled over by “Jersey’s unbelievable variety and quality ingredients, which gives our menu items a pow of freshness.” As a result, “Six friends can come in to Simpson Atlantic City and order completely different meals. Steak, burger, ribs. Mac and cheese pie, jerk tacos with shrimp or chicken, curry goat, coconut salmon, fried chicken, reggae pasta, chicken or shrimp with waffles, jerk oxtail and lots more,” he says. “We have 400 seats to fill. The food better be good, and it is.”

“I already love being part of the Atlantic City excitement,” says Simpson. “Thank you, New Jersey. We’ll do our best for you.”

The Simpson Restaurant & Bar Atlantic City, ACSX1 Studios, 1 Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic City; 609-246-6420. Make reservations online here

Quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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