Chef Bobby D rose from poverty in Jamaica to prosperity in Baltimore through sheer determinationTuesday, November 30, 2021
Jamaican-born Bobby Davis, owner of Chef Bobby D Restaurant and Catering in Baltimore, Maryland is proud of his achievement of having one of the most popular restaurants in the city, with plans already in place to expand his operation.
Davis, who shared with OBSERVER ONLINE that he had first envisioned a future in carpentry while in high school in Jamaica, stated that he was introduced to the restaurant business while on a work programme at a food establishment in the United States, where he was the dishwasher and used the opportunity to do other jobs even if he was not getting paid for it.
“In 2001, I was 20 at the time I came to the states on the hotel programme to be a dishwasher. While I was there I realised that I was very fast with doing the dishes because washing dishes is a regular thing in Jamaica.
“So, I started to look around the restaurant and you know they have the prep cook, chef and sous chef and all those things and one day I went to the chef and asked it is was possible to do prep cook work and cut up vegetables and peel stock and all those things and he said 'you know what Bobby, you can do it but unfortunately we are not going to pay you to do it',” Davis recalled.
He added that the lack of payment was not a deterrent because he was gaining knowledge and experience, something which would help him in the future. Davis explained that he was soon promoted from prep cook to banquet cook and then banquet chef, all while at that location.
Always the go-getter, Davis, following that nine-month stint on the work programme, returned home to Vineyard District in Black River, St Elizabeth where he bought tools and made furniture and sold them in the community.
“While going to high school I always did carpentry because I loved building, I loved wood carving and all those things so that was really my passion,” Davis said, “Things didn't click for me until my last year in school. Teachers didn't take the time out to focus on the children in the back of the class, it was mainly on the brighter children. So I was pushed into learning a trade and I was very good at it.”
He stated that growing up in Vineyard with only his mother to depend on while she took care of three children, he did not know until later in life that they were poor, which he attributes to his mother's sacrifices.
“Growing up, there was a river that ran behind our house, and my grandfather would set pot and catch shrimp and would go to sea and catch lobster and fish. We weren't rich but I didn't know that until way later in life and I remember my mom used to cook and she would feed us and then she would sit and not eat, and I always wondered why,” Davis shared.
“It wasn't until later on in life that I asked her and she said that there was not enough to feed everybody so she would drink water with lime and go to bed. Things were rough, she was a higgler and would walk with her basket on her head and sell jeans pants in the community and go to the market on the weekends. But she didn't make money because people used to trus (credit) her goods. And being farmers, they would say to her, 'me sell something so me soon give you the money' but if they didn't sell anything then my mother wouldn't get any money.”
From that experience, Davis hoped to one day open a store for his mother so she can use it to sell her wares instead of having to endure the ill treatments of selling in the market.
Davis went on to disclose that he went back to the hotel work programme for three seasons and each time he would be quickly promoted due to his willingness to learn and how quickly he adapted to his different roles. Then one day he decided not to return home to Jamaica.
“I decided to save up that summer and moved to Florida. I thought moving to Florida was going to be easy but I realised that it was different when you were moving into a job than living in the states and trying to go get a job.
“I needed documentation to work and fortunately I met people and knew people in high places who were willing to bring me on and pay me under the table and I did that for a while and I was a cook again. But very fast I became the kitchen manager then general manager. By this time I met someone and we got married and I got my papers,” Davis shared.
He shared that he became a director in that company's restaurant at the age of 24 and had to relocate to Maryland to oversee about five restaurants. He would soon go on to other opportunities but realised after a while that he wanted to be making money for himself.
“I wanted to open my own business for a while now, because believe it or not, I created my business plan in 2006 but the fact that I had a family to feed I didn't want to take that chance because I was thinking of my family in Jamaica depending on me for a little money here and there. But as time went on I was able to file for my mother so things were easier and I was able to take that chance,” said Davis,
“So I took the little savings that I had to become a personal chef and did a little catering here and there until I got a little spot. I knew that I can cook really well, and people love the food but I was not getting customers because people didn't know I was there.”
Davis, while being stressed about not making enough money, undertook an unconventional method of marketing his business which he said yielded positive results for his restaurant.
“So at the time I had one or two staff members so I was washing, cooking and serving; I was doing everything myself. So I would work and close the place at 9pm and then jump in my car and do UBER until 5 in the morning and I did that for almost six months. I would print a bunch of menus and give them to the passengers around the area of my restaurant, tell them about the brand new restaurant that has opened, about the good food, and encourage them to visit,” he explained.
“My sales started going up, word of mouth really helped because everybody was talking about this new fusion restaurant. So I was able to stop doing UBER and focus solely on the restaurant with food quality and hiring people. Next year will be four years since I have been doing that.”
Davis shared that business has been good, though with the pandemic he has had to scale back his staff count to eight from 12, and has had to rely on doing take outs though his restaurant seats about 30 people. This has not put a pause on his plans, however, as he is well on his way to his five-restaurant dream with the scheduled opening of his second restaurant in spring 2022.