I have been in the Jamaican restaurant business in Atlanta since 1994. Even though this has been a very rewarding experience, I have concluded there is another level of serving food that I, and others, have not reached.
Don’t get me wrong when I say another level, because everything has to grow to its limits; if limits are set, too.
What I am talking about is the consistent conservativeness we Jamaicans practice when making food in our restaurants.
If we are to reach out to everybody else as we do when we market our beaches to tourists, then a little change in attitude and concept will not only bring about fun but also attract more people and give wider acceptance to our serving delicious foods in style.
In addition, a clearly defined marketing strategy and modern selling techniques will be the keys that will make us grow to excellent status in the food selling business. The ‘hard sell’ style that most of are used to from the Caribbean will not work in all parts of the world.
So instead of assuming that your customer knows what he or she wants, give away free samples of the different kinds food one day a week. It is also noted too many times, that we do not easily employ subtly and tact as we should when marketing our products.
When I have discussions with Jamaican restaurants owners, the subject of marketing rarely comes up, though. In fact, the emphasis is invariably on higher profits and more customers. In my humble opinion, more customers do not always bring higher profits.
The better way to market is to make your current customers spend more money by enticing him or her with things of interest and stress the benefits of these products.
When I travel throughout the Atlanta area, I cannot help but notice the many brightly painted Jamaican restaurants that have popped up in the last five years. They are scattered from the top of the metropolitan area to the bottom of the sprawling suburbs.
As much as this might appear a phenomenon, I still get goose bumps at the thought of Jamaican restaurants competing with so many other ethnic restaurants that are deeply entrenched in the Atlanta culinary landscape for so long.
Nevertheless, the feeling that Jamaican food is making an impact on the food scene is one of excitement and pride, in many ways. Whereas other ethnic restaurants do have a massive support system for buying stock and supplies, we make do with our unconventional ways of bargain hunting for the lowest prices to please our customers.
On top of that, the exclusive Jamaican restaurant suppliers in Atlanta that have made it their goal to provide the best service to the Caribbean community, have also had to deal with other suppliers who see this as a lucrative market for future gain, too.
As a result, cutting the price of certain critical Jamaican items such as curry powder, jerk seasoning, and scotch bonnet peppers by the new restaurant suppliers has helped many a Jamaican restaurateurs both old and new to the business.
In the long run, however, this type of astute business penetration do create a disadvantage for the traditional suppliers who have gone far out of their way to stock some of these same items for the sole purpose of selling to Jamaican restaurants.
In essence, all industry thrives on without any intent, the zero-sum game; one has to lose so the other has to gain. Making that the point is another bleak issue that few of us Caribbean people will ever agree to acknowledge.
However the truth is, if Jamaican restaurants are doing very well in a particular market, it comes naturally that other service providers of ethnic foods will see fit to join in the fray for profit. Like it, or not, we have no choice but to welcome these suppliers.
A challenge in the Jamaican restaurants business is to replicate the same cooking methods we use on the island. I have always hoped to make the pit style Jerk Chicken as I know how, but the rules of the local Department of Environmental Health and other statewide health agencies, restrict what cooking methods I use to bring food safely to the public.
As a result, I, and others, have had to use an oven to make Jerk Chicken. It is safe, clean, authentic, and genuinely jerk. I have seen, though, where some chefs use a grill at first to create the smoke flavor and then finish the jerk chicken in the oven.
It is a matter of choice under the rules set forth by the local health authorities.
When making other foods, too, we must take care that the final result meets the national health standards and our customers taste. It is only fair, also, to take care that we show some sensitivity towards our customers’ choice in eating certain foods based on religious teachings and health issues.
How authentic do you want your Jamaican food? This question seems to be at the heart of some people who are more preservationist than the average Joe. There is no way to make the food as your grand mother did on the three stone wood-fire up in Trelawney…that is the plain truth.
A case in point is the new Jamaican breakfast food that has wholly taken over the market…porridge. Jamaican restaurants are now using the packaged porridge mixes that save time and bring better quality porridges to the market today.
Even banana and plantain porridges are now combined in packages with peanut and oatmeal for porridge making; which would have taken a longer preparation time not so long ago.
Are these porridges authentic? You bet they are…taste and all. All in all, the modernization and changing cooking techniques have made it easier to serve more people in a short time as opposed to yesterday. The food is still authentic and even more flavor induced than any other time.
One facet of the Jamaican restaurant business I can boast about is the fresh foods we cook, daily.
By default, some of the spices we use do not taste good after sitting in gravy for very long time. Curry powder especially is the chief of spices that can make one lose customers and eventually go broke. It takes special handling and knowledge to preserve curry in stews.
Because of this, many restaurants take the precaution of not making too much curry based foods each day...only an ample amount will do, in case it does not sell that day.
For that reason, some Jamaican restaurants may not have your favorite stew peas and rice if you get there late at night…when it is done for that day, it is done. Since nobody is rushing to find a way to preserve Jamaican restaurant food for a long time, the food is automatically made fresh everyday.
Fresh juices and drinks are also a signature trademark of Jamaicans. Of all the ethnic restaurants in Atlanta, Jamaican restaurants are that leading ones in making fresh homemade drinks.
The prices are reasonable as well; if you look at the fact, that all these juices and drinks are natural and the amount of time the workers put into making them, without preservatives.
In conclusion, we Jamaican restaurants operators face some challenges we will easily overcome if we pay close attention the practices of the local market. In our quest to be the best at our craft, we must embrace positive changes with as much keenness and enthusiasm in claiming our rightful place in the Atlanta culinary industry.
Although we have had an impact on the local market, it is still peripheral at best. When an effective Jamaican Restaurant Association is in place with the intent to create an economic force with ample purchasing power, we will continue to wade in the financial waters, so to speak.
Keeping those thoughts in mind, in the meantime, let our presence be that gesture for growth and progress through the years to come…for everyone’s sake. YAH MON!
These little Jamaican restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia serve up the real Jamaican taste. They do it right every time; no frills, no bells, no whistles. It’s just good ‘ol fashion Jamaican cooking.
Stop by any one of these locations at:
1142 Athens Hwy.Grayson, GA 30017.
Telephone: (678) 344-5864. Get Map
4761 Memorial Drive Decatur, GA 30032.
Telephone: (404) 292-0106 Est. 1992. Get Map
1943 Wesley Chapel Rd. Decatur, GA 30035.
Telephone: (404) 289-1623. Get Map
7173 E. Covington Hwy.Lithonia, GA 30058.
Telephone: (770) 482-8313. Get Map
6116 Covington Highway, Suite D Lithonia, GA 30058.
Telephone: (770) 593-8400. Est. 2000. Get Map
6651A Covington Hwy. Suite A Lithonia, GA 30058
Telephone:(770) 987-9971 Est. 2006. Get Map
6125 Covington Hwy. Suite# 5 Lithonia, GA 30058
Telephone: (678) 518-8649 Est. 2006. Get Map
4885 Redan Road, Stone Mountain, GA 30088.
Telephone: (404)296-1475 Est. 19
6814 Main St. Lithonia, GA 30058
Telephine: (770) 428-2770 Get Map