Business

Jamaican entrepreneur builds Irie brand in Barbados

Friday, April 26, 2019

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ON the south coast of Barbados, the St Lawrence Gap in Christ Church is a must-stop for tourists looking to enjoy the lively nightlife, bubbling restaurants and gorgeous beachfront properties on the island.

The well-known strip, which is also called 'The Gap' is home to some of the 4,000 transnational companies that have set up businesses in the destination which markets itself as having an 'investment-friendly' climate.

For Jamaican Curtis Cawley, the trip to Barbados was to rebuild someone else's dream after an ice-cream factory was burnt to the ground in 2009. But that mission quickly changed when Cawley saw the opportunity to build a business of his own on the island.

“During my stay in Barbados, I saw the opportunity to offer Jamaican cuisine to both the locals and the tourists, so I started to do some research on the different dishes and I called friends and family back in Jamaica to find out the best way to prepare the meals,” Cawley said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

A year later, Cawley and his son registered the business Irie Kitchens Limited and started operating from a 700-square-foot facility on 2nd Avenue Dover, off Lawrence Gap.

Today, the restaurant that seats up to 50 patrons has carved out a niche in Barbados from the preparation of jerk pork, jerk chicken, curried chicken, oxtail, ackee and saltfish, roti, banana bread and roast breadfruit dishes.

“About 80 per cent of whom we serve are tourists from Europe and the Caribbean diaspora. It's quite common to hear our customers say that this is the best food they've had in Barbados,” he said.

Cawley currently employs nine people, half of which are Jamaicans, but he hopes to double employment numbers with the opening of a second restaurant on the island.

He is also exploring the production of sorrel, soursop, guava, June Plum (golden apple) and limeade juices in addition to jerk and pepper sauces in his quest to build the Irie Foods brand into a household name.

“We produce roughly 14,000 of the juices per year and I've been selling them with the lunches at the restaurant but now that we have completed labelling we're ready to get shelf space in the supermarkets,” Cawley reasoned.

The business owner told the Caribbean Business Report that he currently imports pimento along with fruits for the juices from Jamaica and notes that there is a demand for the Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper in Barbados.

“One thing that I've found out is that the Jamaican seasonings are more potent. So, for instance, if I'm preparing a meal, I would have to double up on the seasonings here to get the same flavour as it would be in Jamaica,” Cawley said.

BARBADOS RIPE FOR INVESTMENT

But agriculture is not the only area that Cawley believes Jamaicans can capitalise on in Barbados. Noting that the Barbados economy is “ripe” for investment, Cawley listed the hotel industry and capital markets as areas for growth in the country.

“Jamaicans are good business people and we know how to take advantage of opportunities. The Bajans and the tourists love our patties and Easter bun; the last time I came from Jamaica, one box of patties had to be shared for about 17 people.

“Solar energy is another thing that the Bahamians are big on and the country could also do well with more manufacturers and retailers,” he said.

Renewable energy is a relatively new but fast-developing sector in Barbados, which has great potential for attracting foreign direct investment. As a means of diversifying the economy, the Barbados government is actively encouraging the development of this sector over the medium to short term.

More effort is also being placed in promoting the country to the Jamaican business community since the launch of Caribbean Airlines non-stop services between Kingston, Jamaica, and Bridgetown, Barbados.

Cawley is confident that both countries could see an increase in trade and visitor arrivals.

Earlier this month, Caribbean Airlines announced the return of the non-stop service between the two destinations, closing roughly a 15-year hiatus for direct travel.

The inaugural flight, which took place on Monday, April 15, offers an additional 300 seats to Jamaicans and Barbadians looking to do business or travelling for leisure between countries, every Monday and Friday.

Caribbean Airlines' non-stop service comes in response to demands from both destinations' business communities. The service is also aimed at reducing travel time for Barbadians looking to study at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaica; and Jamaicans looking to further their law studies at UWI Cave Hill, Barbados.

“The last time I went to Jamaica I had to overnight in Trinidad so I'm happy we now have the direct flight and I would love to see more Jamaicans coming over,” Cawley said.

“It's a big deal for the business community and Jamaicans looking to enjoy Crop-Over (carnival) and the Buju concert in Barbados and the Bajans looking to have a good time in Jamaica,” he continued.


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