Entrepreneurship can be considered a risky road few traverse or go & stay the distance. Like certain professions, you must be born for it and adapt to be sustainable and maintain your responsibility to serve and represent your brand in the best manner.
If you do it well, it may even seem glamorous and even lucrative to those looking on from the outside. But the road is certainly not to be coveted if that is your sole purpose.
You will be in for a rude awakening when you realize that the road is not paved in gold. In fact, you may find it filled with many sleepless nights, doubts, fears, failures and personal sacrifices for your time, resources, former luxuries or way of life (it’s kinda like having a baby).
For many of us, we see no other option to share our innate talent/passion with as many as possible who appreciate & value our ‘craft’. One such person is Curlyn John, who I was lucky to meet when I lived on the sister-isle of Tobago in 2013 and meet up in Grenada in 2014 for the wedding of mutual friends.
Similar to business; friendship and anything you deem worthwhile are about compromise, communication and appreciation of character for what the person brings to your life. Without this, you become dust in the wind scratching the surface on the meaning & joy in life.
Curlyn’s personality is warm and embracing. It makes for good business. She shares that her recipe for attracting [repeat] customers is her commitment to outstanding service, packaging and creating the mood for her customers’ eclectic and mouth watering meals of choice to be enjoyed.
Her culinary journey began at the School Feeding Programme in Mason Hall (Tobago) where she worked as a cook for a year before pursuing a Diploma in Chef Training at the Trinidad & Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (Trinidad Hotel School).
Soon after graduating John along with a few classmates were offered the opportunity to showcase their culinary skills aboard a cruise ship that was dry-docked in Chaguaramas (Trinidad).
“There were no passengers, so we cooked for the crew and soon hired to work on different ships going to the Caribbean islands, with the exception of Barbados, Jamaica and Cuba. We got as far as the Bahamas and Cayman Islands, but Palm Island took my breath away. It’s a private island off the coast of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” she recalls.
The ship was based in Antigua and Curlyn eventually settled – making this island her new home. The warm welcome made it an easy transition. She worked at the Trade Winds Hotel as a Chef de Partie; the Grand Royal Antigua, Jolly Beach Resort and Jimmy’s Beach Grill & Bar to name a few of the well-known establishments in Antigua.
However, for Chef John this was not enough to showcase her gifts in the best light, so she took a calculated risk and quit her 8-4 after 11 years to open her own restaurant. It was called ‘Trini Delights’ (since around that time, more people were familiar with Trinidad than Tobago). It was a gamble that paid off since her restaurant soon became a hit with the locals.
She served take-away lunches and breakfast, opening her doors at 6 a.m. Monday to Saturday. Many times her neighbours and other customers would come a-knocking any time of day or night saying to her:
“You must have some kind of food or a cup with ice and a cold drink in your freezer!”
She says that was the only drawback of working from home, but loved cooking for her customers offering a new special each day, while maintaining her regular menu. Her top sellers included specials such as roti, made from scratch and her Tuesday pepperpot – an Antiguan soup made of spinach, okras, dumplings and various peas.
Chef Curlyn mastered all the local dishes and on Thursdays served up saltfish with ducuna (similar to what we call paime in Trinidad & Tobago, but made with sweet potato). Fungi was also popular (similar to coo coo, but made of a softer consistency and served piping hot). She accompanied this dish with stewed fish and chop chop (callaloo made with spinach).
Listening to her describe these mouth-watering delights, made me realize that her business really lived up to its name, as I remembered visiting her one Sunday for the Tobago Jazz Festival and asking for seconds!
She served a plethora of dishes for breakfast and most times the same customers returned for lunch. Business was so good that she was able to fund her eldest daughter’s undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Applied & Forensic Sciences at The University of the West Indies, Mona Jamaica without taking a loan.
Then the recession hit and Curlyn decided to move back home to Tobago at the end of 2012. She had to start all over again but admits that ‘home will always be home.’ She maintained old friendships and will never forget the tremendous support she received during the transition. Chef John says re-adjusting to Tobago life was hard and chuckles as she remembers mentally converting the currency whenever she visited the supermarket.
To get back on her feet she accepted a job as Chef/Lecturer at the Tobago Hospitality & Tourism Institute and was grateful for the memorable experiences mentoring the students and helping them host their Student Dinners. John later received her Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) and toyed with the idea of teaching, but her dream was to open her own Fine Dining Restaurant.
“I want to serve tasty food with superb service that wouldn’t cost a pound and a crown.”
To achieve this goal and with little rest for the weary, Curlyn did private catering and sold lunches on the weekends. She received repeat business from private and corporate clients, along with referrals from friends and colleagues.
In 2016 through her continuous efforts and prayers, Curlyn was granted a 2-year lease at a popular hotel to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner. Though her lease came to an end, she continues to give thanks for the opportunity to put a smile on the faces of her guests by doing what she loves and was created to do.
With so many experiences under her belt; the mother of 3 beautiful daughters beams as she shares in the most humble way, as if it happened yesterday:
“While working in Antigua: two different groups (foreign & local) asked to see the chef after their meal.
The first was so impressed, they paid double their bill. The second group of about 100 people who filled the restaurant, all stood on their feet and applauded when I entered the room!
I will never forget that for as long as I live; I think I floated a few feet off the ground! No one can ever break my stride because of my faith in God, everything I do is for Him and my children; they are my world and continue to make me so proud.” Curlyn says with a smile.
For more you can contact Chef Curlyn John at (868)-764-0989, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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