Jamaica Mi Hungry: Entrepreneur takes business from catering to bricks and mortar
For seven years, chef Ernie Campbell has sold Jamaican food from his Jamaica Mi Hungry food truck, building up a loyal following. This fall, he’s looking to build on his success with a brick-and-mortar location at 225 Centre St.
Campbell started his business in 2012 while he was working mainly for private events and catering. He always had an interest in food trucks, as did Jamaica Mi Hungry General Manager Aquila Kentish. The two met working in a Seaport hotel, where they realized that they both were into food trucks and had an interest in opening one of their own.
Kentish tells the Banner that at first, Campbell bought a catering van to make it easier to do the catering jobs. The pair moved up to a fully-outfitted food truck in 2015. They began attending different food truck festivals every week, some as far away as New Hampshire.
Traveling with the food truck that year made networking easy for them. “It helped a lot of people recognize us,” Kentish says.
In 2016, they introduced their first seasonal restaurant, which is open from May to September in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.
Jamaica Mi Hungry has always been on a mission to expand and grow. Its pop-up location in Kendall Square is scheduled to close down in November, but the entrepreneurs hope that in the future they will be able to get a permanent location there.
Transitioning from the truck to a permanent restaurant location has not been simple. They’ve had to take many factors into consideration, such as financing, location and figuring out the times when customers are coming. In a food truck, Kentish explained, the times are very quick, and service is fast. They would go out for three hours at a time with the truck, knowing exactly when people were coming.
To finance the new Centre Street location, they had to consider everything from furniture to staffing. The benches in the restaurant are custom-made so they could incorporate their [Jamaican Flag] colors in it and get dark colors to match with it. “I think that was probably the biggest financial piece … everything from our clean tables to our grill, the fryers that we’re going to use, putting an oven in it. So I think the equipment for the kitchen was one of the biggest financings,” says Kentish.
The advantage of having a permanent location, Kentish says, is that a lot of people who before would have asked them where they can get more, now can come and enjoy the food any time they want to.
“The best thing is that we just have space where people can always come,” she says. “We are at an accessible location that’s accessible by walking and [has] parking also. So just having a place where people always know where to find us.”
Summing up the goals of Jamaica Mi Hungry’s new location, Kentish says, “What we tried to do is bring something a little bit different even to the Caribbean food scene, just from the way that we set up the place, like we want it to be comfortable. We want people to come to sit down and hang out and feel welcome here.”