J'can aims to strike gold in the restaurant business in London
BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
LONDON, England — Patrick Marche's journey to strike gold in the restaurant business in London began with a determination to make Caribbean cuisine the most globally sought after recognised dishes.
Now his upscale Caribbean Scene restaurant chain, started six years ago, has four eateries -- Caribbean Scene Family, located a stone's throw from the Olympic Park; Caribbean Scene Royale, which offers fine dining in the Docklands; Caribbean Scene Quick, that serves up 'quality food on the go'; and Caribbean Scene Hospitality, which operates as a catering service.
"Like Usain Bolt is after that Olympic record, I am after that goal to make Caribbean cuisine globally accepted... so it is not sold just to our own people but seeing it become mainstream," said Marche` whose chain was voted Best Caribbean Restaurant two years in a row.
Already Marche seems set on the path to realising his goal as the majority of the customers who came in for lunch during the Jamaica Observer's visit to Caribbean Scene Family on Monday were non-Caribbean nationals.
From curry goat and jerk chicken to fried dumpling and calaloo, the customers piled their plates high at the buffet-styled diner.
With Bob Marley hits playing in the background, his black, green and gold tie, and the draught Red Stripe beer and Guinness Punch on offer, Marche said he ensures his restaurants remain as authentic as possible.
"We have a great mix of customers many of whom have never had Caribbean food," he said, adding that some even believe in the ability of the food to make them run as fast as Bolt.
Marche said one of the restaurant's busiest time was during the construction of the Olympic Park when tour operators would stop by, many trying Caribbean food for the first time.
The restaurant has also seen many celebrity diners, including Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who made an impromptu stop at the restaurant during her visit last week to attend the Olympic opening ceremony.
Customer Gus Zogolovitch, who was attending the Games, said he was encouraged by his father to try the food.
"My father recommended that I come by this restaurant when I am here and I am really enjoying the food," he said, adding that, among the foods, he was trying the steamed cabbage, stewed chicken and steamed calaloo for the first time.
"This is way better than the plastic container food they have in the Village," he told the Observer as he went back for his second plate.
Marche, who left Mandeville, Manchester at age 10 to join his parents in the UK, started his career in finance and taxation but crossed over to the restaurant business after he became overly frustrated with Caribbean restaurants that were only to be found only in some of the worst neighbourhoods.
"The restaurants are in dark, dilapidated and dingy areas and they are never well managed and so they were never a reflection of where we should be," he said.
Determined to change the status quo, Marche said he worked in the restaurant of a celebrity chef of Jamaican origin, Patrick Williams, waiting tables and doing just about everything it took for him to learn about the restaurant business -- all this while he held down his full-time job.
But the hardest challenge was yet to come as at the end of his two-year "research", he did not have the capital to establish the type of restaurant he had in mind.
After pooling all his resources and still falling short, Marche said he called a town hall meeting to invite persons to invest in his dream.
But although he presented what he described as a "master proposal" to the 100 persons who showed up and fed them hors d'oeuvres and champagne, none bought into his vision.
"I remember that after the presentation one lady went and withdrew £250 and gave it to me because she was sorry for me," he recalled.
However, a few days later another investor put out £5,000 and this was to be the start of a fundraising campaign, which ended only after he had acquired the property.
The plan was to establish the first restaurant in Stratford. However, in 2005 when London received the nod to host the Games, the Council halted construction of the property which is located across from the stadium.
As such, Marche shifted the focus to establishing the first restaurant in Docklands, but even that was met with great resistance. Marche said he was quizzed by the developers, who informed him that word was out that he owned another restaurant which is a "Yardie" headquarters and which is constantly raided by the police.
"This is the glass-ceiling effect why black businesses don't progress in this country," he charged.
A year later, the Council gave the approval for the Stratford building to be erected and again Marche said he went on a campaign to identify investors.
Meanwhile, the chain has been giving back to the community through its work experience programme done in conjunction with a local school. The chain also provides employment for 80 persons.