The Denham Town chef who sells food from his upstairs window

Staff reporter

Sunday, March 10, 2019

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To say Jamaicans are filled with ingenuity would be a colossal understatement.

This comes especially when you consider the cleverness and originality that is exaggerated in many of the nation's inner-city communities where small business operators, much like the Chinese, find ways to sell almost anything at the lowest price.

Perhaps you've seen or heard of shopkeepers selling a squeeze of toothpaste, or a cup of cereal; or cook-shop operators who sell meals at the lowest price point possible - $100. But for sure, you've never seen or heard of this one: Ardain Murray, aka Chillo, operates a home-based cook shop on the third storey of an apartment building in Denham Town, using a rope and bucket to lower the meals from his window to his loyal, but also fascinated customers.

When the Jamaica Observer visited the community last week, Murray explained that he came up with the idea because residents in the war-torn section of West Kingston were afraid to go into the scheme where he lived to buy his food.

Murray, 36, said that after running his cook shop for almost seven years, the spike of violence in the community, before it was declared a zone of special operations (ZOSO) in December 2017, posed a big threat to his livelihood. And so, he had to start thinking outside of the box.

“Di violence that erupt is what cause di slow down, so I had to come up with a idea to interact with customers across the street who don't want to come inside the scheme any at all.

“Even my window get shot out one time because my corner right here was a hotspot where there was a lot of cross fire, so people were afraid to come this side and when dem come, they want to just move as quickly as possible.

“And normally when I was going to market and mi see people on the other side them a say, 'bwoy, mi want come buy a food enuh, but mi fraid fi come round inna di scheme. Mi rather stay pon di front'. And mi say me will deliver it man, mi will carry it come.

Murray said this was how he Initially responded to the drop in customers.

“So I started carrying the food to them. But then I started thinking if them can just come across the road, and I find a way to send it down through the window, then it work better for me and them. So basically mi start think out of di box.

“Because is me alone run di business, sometimes it was very difficult fi leave somebody up here and go down di stairs fi serve somebody across di street, and then come up back to deal with the other customers.

“So because a dat now, I come up with the idea to let down the food through mi window on the other side so they don't have to come around.

As expected, Murray's ingenious method invited much fun and laughter from residents.

“Dem love it but it was also kinda funny to see such a unusual thing. It worked out for me but people at first did find it funny and they would laugh when they see me doing it. When I started, you had people who lived inside my scheme who would go around to my window to order just to see me send down the bucket. So it was unique. They never see anyone doing this before.”

He also explained that he has a particular way of making customers know when the food is ready.

“I alert them when I am ready, like I will shout out, 'Ready, Ready, Ready!' I announce what I have and I do it maybe like every 20 minutes.

“I use only my voice. I did have a speaker and di people dem complain say dem not hearing me so clear when I use the speaker. So mi end up put down di speaker and start use mi voice. And it's amazing to me because dem tell me how far dem stay and hear me from.”

Murray, who has lived in the community for 21 years, said he acquired his cooking skills in a training programme put on by the National Housing Trust and has been a chef ever since.

“I have been doing this for seven years and people look and they say 'a seven years you've been doing business and you still in the same position. But I have a lot of downfall, because if I cook a lot of food today and one shot fire, it mash up that whole day for me. Food stop sell.”

However, Murray revealed that business has picked up since the implementation of ZOSO in the community.

“I have to give thanks for the ZOSO that is now in the area. They help out a lot because I am seeing the improvements here.

“After I started delivering the food through my window, I start to see a likkle improvement, but it is much better since the ZOSO come in the area. You find that more people come across because we have police sitting across the street from where I am.”

Some residents told the Sunday Observer that 'Chillo food' is the rave in the community because of the taste and low cost.

“You can get almost anything fi buy a Chillo, and it taste good too,” said one resident.

Another admitted that it was funny at first. “Di people dem usually laugh when him start do it, but we get used to it now. Is chu [because of] di war why him start. But him sell di food cheap, so di people dem support him same way.”

Murray who lives with his son and wife-to-be explained that as a businessman, he operates on one principle: “For me, quick sale and small profit bring more gain. The quicker you sell, the more food you sell. And mi do it so that even when them have a likkle money, them can still come and get something that is within their budget. Mi try work out something for them. Mi have various price, as low as $100. So everybody can buy. And them always tell me that the taste and quality that I have is different from the others.”

For $100, Murray said his customers can get veggie chunks and chicken back with rice and peas.

“Otherwise mi cook stew peas, cow foot, turkey neck. And for the breakfast, mi have a likkle special where mi do franks and bean for $100; kidney, liver, vegetable, and you will get that for $100 with three nice-size fried dumpling.

“Di breakfast for me would be a better side of business if I am ready on time. Time is my downfall right now because of a lack of goods and because mi just buy and sell. That area is what is hitting me right now. But I am going from strength to strength,” he revealed.

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