One thing is for certain, Jamaicans love a hot, well-prepared meal, especially one they can grab on the go.
Like many families hard-hit by the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, cookshop owners leaned into their creative side through their menus to keep stomachs full and their businesses afloat.
From introducing special combo deals, to adding unique pairings to select dishes, many entrepreneurs — to borrow from a colloquial phrase — had to ‘tun dem han mek fashion’.
Daniel Bernard, a cook at the popular Chicken Chest Restaurant located in Papine, credits the business thriving during the hardest months of the pandemic, on the quick action of the team to implement various special offers on a number of meal items, to the delight of the restaurant’s customers.
“Hard times come and hit everybody’s pocket. Food became a luxury for many and we realised quickly that the best way to help the people, in our own way, was to give a little more than they expect,” Bernard said.
He continued: “We did promotion combos, offering things like a free juice with some meals, a burger served with fries or sold cakes along with the chicken and rice lunch.”
The two-year-old eatery credits its expansion from a small shop in Tavern to its current location in Papine Square on its well-seasoned dishes including mackerel run down, liver, curry goat and a variety of breakfast options.
On any given day, Chicken Chest Restaurant serves more than 200 meals to those looking for their favourite Jamaican cooked foods while on the go.
For Launa Rodney and Heather Williams, co-owners of the Launa Cookshop located in the Downtown Bus Park on Pechon Street, their shared passion for cooking and creating different menus for family and friends was the inspiration behind their joint business.
In its two years of operation, Rodney and Williams agree that their cowfoot and fried chicken dishes are hot sellers among the many vendors, passersby and customers that support their cookshop in the downtown area.
“All the time people come from far to support the business, and we grateful. The space is small, so we only sell lunch like chop suey, curry goat, stew beef, pork and those things. We don’t sell breakfast, but people must have something warm to help carry them through the day, so we have porridge —like peanut, oats and hominy corn,” Williams explained.
‘DUMPLING IN A BAG’
Faced with rising costs for meats and other supplies, the jovial team focused their efforts on diversifying their food options while holding fast to their largely traditional menu.
Curious about St Mary’s newest snack release, Johnny Crunchers—or ‘dumpling in a bag,’ Launa Restaurant opted to test their customers’ interest by pairing the modern twist on the traditional favourite and were pleasantly surprised by the results.
“I heard about the fried dumpling in a bag, but never know what it was. I tried it and liked it and thought it would taste good with gravy. Jamaicans will try different sounding food as long as it taste good,” Rodney shared.
Williams chimed in: “Our customers know that anything we serve have to taste good, so we never really have a struggle to convince them to try it. So instead of rice, we gave them [customers] the Johnny Crunchers with stew chicken and curry goat. Dem love it! It have that crunchy nice taste that can go with food that has a lot of gravy or sauce, like ketchup”.
Hugh Dinnall, owner of Daily Delicious, a May Pen-based restaurant agrees with Williams.
“Johnny Crunchers makes for a good side order, when you eat it with other things it really brings out the flavour. I tried it with baked chicken and it had a vibes man. To change things up, I served the Johnny Crunchers with stewed peas, something you would never even think of eating with a crunchy snack item and our customers just loved it!” he said.
Dinnall further explained: “One thing the pandemic has shown us business owners, especially in the food business… you have to try new things. You have to push the envelope, to introduce customers to new things they wouldn’t normally try. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t but you gain their [customers] loyalty when you show them that you are thinking ahead.”
Daily Delicious, has been in operation for just over 20 years. The restaurant owner recently partnered with the St Mary’s snack brand for a pop-up sampling to diversify his menu offering.
Designed with uniquely Jamaican flavours in mind, the delicious St Mary’s Johnny Crunchers can be enjoyed on its own, paired with a dip, or as a side to breakfast, lunch or dinner on-the-go.