BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
THOSE who rely on Junior Augustine's low-budget meals believe Jamaica could learn a thing or two about how to keep food costs down in these harsh economic times.
For $50, persons can purchase a meal of two festivals and three pieces of jerked chicken neck, sometimes with a bit of steamed vegetables; and for a mere $100, a mini box of sumptuous rice and peas, brown stewed chicken and vegetables.
"Yeah man, mi nuh know how him do it because wi still get whole heap a food," said one resident as he waited to be served at Augustine's cook shop in Wheelerfield, St Thomas.
Two years after he began operating the roadside eatery, Augustine said it is a miracle that he is still able to offer his customers the same quantity and quality meals for the same price.
"Is just Father God help mi fi keep the price down because even out ah di shop wey mi buy a Golden Grove dem ah ask mi how mi can still afford fi sell food fi $100," Augustine told the Jamaica Observer North East.
The residents are only too happy, for the prices mean they do not have to go to bed hungry. Unemployment is high in this sugar belt area, arising from the closure of the sugar factories in the parish a few years ago. As such, there are many residents who are unable to prepare inexpensive meals like that at home so they have come to rely on Augustine for both lunch and dinner.
As for Augustine, the business is not only a source of income for him and his family, but a way of helping residents in this low-income community. As if to demonstrate the point, Augustine didn't turn away a farmer who was only able to come up with $30 after fishing around desperately in his pockets.
"Yuh know say ah nuh dat fi it, but mi know how it is when you in di field ah work still so mi ah go fix you up," Augustine said, as he served up two huge festivals with jerked chicken neck and steamed vegetable in a plastic bag.
"Everyting raise up, but mi still work with $50 and $100 because mi see weh mi can still live," he told the Observer North East in between serving his many customers.
The idea to open the cook shop, he said, came to him after visiting Coronation market in Kingston about two years ago and seeing a man selling a similar meal. On returning to Wheelerfield, he said, he immediately went out and got a jerk pan and bought 10 pounds of chicken neck to start with.
Augustine said he used to cook conch soup at Round Robin events, but called it quits after the enforcement of the Noise Abatement Act forced a fall-off in the staging of the events. When that livelihood could no longer put food on his table, Augustine said he resorted to going door to door selling female underwear.
But he never found his real niche until he started the wayside cook shop.
He maintained that it is nothing short of a miracle that he has been able to sell at the same price in the face of steep increases in the cost of chicken neck. The price, he said, was approximately $45 per pound when he started out, but is now at $70.
"Because is a poor community mi just cyaan have the heart fi raise it and so mi just do what mi can," he said.
But though the profit is small, it certainly is a quick sale and Augustine said he sometimes has to cook three times a day to meet the demand. In fact, he said, there is never a day that he has not been able to sell all the food he prepares, totalling as many as 150-200 boxes.
"And mi cook right through the week, except for Sundays," he said.
Explaining his schedule, Augustine said his business is open from 7:00 am through to midnight, six days a week. This, he said, is to ensure that persons can get a meal at almost any time of the day.
"Dem cyaan use $100 fi cook at dem yard because is $70 a pound fi chicken back, so mi mek sure that them can always come in from bush or wherever and get a meal," he said.
Augustine said he has a dream to expand the business so that he can help to provide jobs for the many unemployed youth in the community. Already, he provides a ready market for a group of farmers as he purchases regular supplies of vegetables and seasonings from them.
"Mi real dream is to be able to do more for the community, although mi nuh come from here," he said, adding that he only needs some help to make this a reality.
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