'Joy in the midst of disaster'
Young Montegonian creates business opportunity amidst COVID-19Thursday, September 02, 2021
BY ROCHELLE CLAYTON
MONTEGO BAY, St James — Twenty-four-year-old Montegonian Jewel Samuels is among the many Jamaicans who have been forced to find new avenues to sustain themselves since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Samuels, who spent some six years in the hospitality sector, found a new love for cooking after not being able to “go eat out” when several major restaurants closed last year, due to the pandemic.
“I was working in hospitality as a front desk receptionist but because of the pandemic and the closing of a lot of the resorts, you know I had to become creative and find other means to sustain myself. I was never a fan of cooking, if I'm being totally honest, I majored in literature and arts in high school and college, but I loved going out to eat,” Samuels explained.
“That was one of my favourite [things] to pass time, so when the pandemic started and everywhere was closed, I still wanted the food. And without having anywhere to go, I had to start becoming creative and I started cooking for me and my mom, and I realised that it was something that I liked to do,” she told the Jamaica Observer West.
After recognising that cooking is her “calling”, Samuels decided to turn this new love into a business venture, and so Big Ez's Takeout Place came to life, she said.
“I said I might as well start making some money from it. I started doing it and then I just realised that I love doing it and I knocked myself because I really wish that I knew that this was what I wanted to do years ago because it would have saved me a lot of boring lectures and courses I had no interest in,” Samuels shared.
Like many others have shared, starting a new business in the middle of a pandemic is not a walk in the park, especially a food venture from home, Samuels pointed out. Regardless of this, the Mount Alvernia High School past student has found “joy in the midst of the disaster.”
“At first it started off rough because I cook from home, so you know I had to build that trust with my customers. At first it might have seemed a little bit sketchy but despite that, I feel like even throughout the disaster that the pandemic has been causing, it does give a little a hopefulness because without the pandemic, I wouldn't have been able to discover that I have a love for food and cooking,” she said.
To grow her clientele, the 24-year-old said, delivery services are offered to every community in and around Montego Bay, as she aims to “leave no community untouched.”
“I do deliveries in and around Montego Bay, I try to leave no community untouched so there is not a community that I don't go to. I know a lot of people say they don't go here or there but I try to let everybody get a piece of what I'm offering so I do go to Flanker, Norwood...all the inner-city communities,” she explained.
Since her restaurant offers only takeout service, building trust was the hardest part of the venture, she said. Now, a year later, she has built enough trust and clientele to grow her business and is now in search of a physical location to expand her range.
“The pandemic has also paved a way because people weren't able to go out to eat as much, so the delivery service really came in handy for a lot of people. I have mixed feelings about it to be honest, it started off rocky but after gaining that trust and the clientele that I needed, it started to grow and it is going good now,” Samuels told the Observer West.
“I am currently searching for a permanent location. It is becoming very tedious to cater to everybody right now because the business is growing so in a couple of months I will be opening my physical location.”
Her goal, she told the Observer West, is to have at least three locations within the next six years.
“I see myself growing and expanding my business, I want to have at least three branches of my restaurant by age 30 so that is the aim,” said Samuels.
Kitanya Auboine, a resident of Montego Bay, described herself as Big Ez's Takeout Place's “best customer”.
She shared that “it doesn't matter where I am at, I'm definitely going to order her food, and I know she will make it amazing.”
Auboine noted that Samuel's customer service is also a contributing factor to her continued support.
“Honestly, her customer service is the best and she is very easy to deal with so I can just message her like 'hey, I'm hungry' and she will respond with 'what are you feeling for today?' and depending on what I'm feeling for, she will make it or if she has something [specific] making that day, she will let me know,” Auboine told the Observer West.