FOR many, starting and owning a business is the ultimate dream. You can call your own shots. Most times you can choose your own schedule and you definitely don't have to answer to a jerk boss or interact with toxic co-workers.
But for Ronnetta Crooks Allen, managing director of RSS Naturalll Delites, starting her business was about simply survival. The name, RSS is the initial letter of her name and that of her two daughters.
The affable young woman from Old Harbour, St Catherine, produces a host of traditional Jamaican snacks and pastries, but getting the business started was not easy.
"My business started in 2017 when my husband moved out and left me as a single parent," Crooks Allen shared with the Jamaica Observer.
When that happened, the stay-at-home mother of two said she had to find a way to survive the loss of her husband's income which previously took care of the home and her children. Now she had to do it on her own.
Crooks Allen said she started first making and selling natural juices, but the sales at the time were disappointing. However, while that brought frustration, she said it also caused her to focus as she brainstorm what she could do to send her children to school, pay the bills and take care of herself.
Being a spiritual person, Crooks Allen said she took the disappointment to God in prayer, asking him for guidance on what she could do that will make enough money to do what she had to do — taking care of herself and two daughters being the priority.
"After that, the idea came to me to start doing coconut drops," she told Sunday Finance.
"Now, I didn't know how to make coconut drops. However, I had a neighbour who knew how to do it and I asked her to show me how to make the product. She showed me once and the second time, I bought the coconuts and I told her that I wanted to do it again. So she told me 'alright, guess what you do, cut up the coconut, prepare it and everything.' Now the lady didn't come back until one hour after and being the type of person I am, I cannot wait on anyone, so I went ahead and started, doing what I saw her doing when she showed me how to make coconut drops the first time."
But Crooks Allen said she eventually found out that her neighbours delay in turning up to help her make coconut drops was a test of her resolve. It was something the neighbour revealed later.
"When she came she said, 'Oh, you did it' and I said yes, and she told me that she was teaching me how to survive and not wait on anyone."
Since then, Crooks Allen said she grew in confidence making the products and started innovating, adding different elements such as almonds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds to the coconut drops and being equally innovative with the other products she started to make. The business has also evolved in the variety of products on offer.
"We take the old time traditional Jamaican snacks and turn them into a new look with a new taste. We infuse a lot of different nuts with the coconut drops, cranberry gizzadas, peanut cakes, grater cakes with sesame seeds, sorrel jams with cayenne pepper and turmeric candies."
In total, RSS Naturalll Delites has five different flavours of coconut drops. "We have cranberry, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and the original coconut drops."
"We also do grater cakes with sesame seeds and we also do the original pink and white grater cakes that Jamaican children grew up eating. We do three types of gizzadas — cranberry, almond and the original. We do sorrel jam with cayenne pepper and without cayenne pepper, we do turmeric candy and we also do three types of Krismus Cakes — eggless Christmas cakes, sorrel Christmas cakes and the original Christmas cakes. There is also peanut cakes with cranberry and pumpkin seeds and the original peanut cakes," Crooks Allen said as she outlined the products which make up her portfolio currently.
"Whenever I am doing anything, I work late in the nights when I have few distractions," she said, adding that is when her creativity stands out.
But starting a business just ahead of the pandemic also brought its challenges.
"At the height of the pandemic it was not that good, but last year December I see a light starting to shine on me. From then, more people started to see the products and I am getting better sales now," she told Sunday Finance.
"I have the products in Hi-Lo supermarket, Sovereign Supermarket, Sampars Old Harbour, Things Jamaican at Devon House and the Norman Manley International Airport, the JDF at Up Park Camp and also people who want to get it directly from me can WhatsApp my number and I will get it to them," the single parent said.
Even though the business is small at the moment, Crooks Allen is thinking big.
She has a website, https://rssnaturallldelites.co/, and can be found on Instagram @rssnatural and on Amazon as well.
"So if you are overseas and want your traditional Jamaican snacks, you can get it," she added.
But those products aside, Crooks Allen said she also produces 'blue draws' or dukunu as it is called in some parts of Jamaica and other traditional Jamaican pastries like sweet potato puddings.
"You name it and I can bake it for you," she boasts.
"Since I started this business, there is a lot of things I have accomplished. In 2019, I was nominated as a world entrepreneurial woman by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica and I went to International Organization for Standardization (ISO), World Trade Organization and Teacher Effectiveness Training (TET) workshop in The Bahamas and I was so delighted. I didn't expect as a small person with a coconut drops going to those places."
She said she realised from those that her business can transition into a big one.
"But what's holding me back is capital. That's preventing me from excelling the way I see this business can go."
Crooks Allen, however, admits that getting capital for her business is hard, because of "red flags" on her financial past.
She said to keep her family going after her divorce, she borrowed money, trying different things which failed, and she was in no position to repay at the time.
"Seeing all of these struggles I have gone through with this business and to take care of my two girls, I am proud despite the setbacks. One of my girls is now in law school and the other is on the cusp of finishing high school. This business took them through and kept us going. Now I am putting things in place for the both of them. I enjoy the last few years. I have been through some storms, but that helped me to know who God is and helped me to put my trust in God and believe that some way down the line, everything will work out for your good," she concluded.