Nestled within the Eglington West corridor is Carib21, a new Caribbean restaurant with a unique mission: to unite the Carribean food landscape one meal at a time.
A love of food brought the Canadian born Vincentian and her Jamaican born husband and business partner, James, together. She jokingly explains that traditional roles were reversed as he cooked his way into her heart. James strengthened his culinary expertise after years of working in the food and hospitality industry across the Caribbean and it paid off. After one date where James cooked a delicious fancy Caribbean dinner she was hooked. Now, the husband and wife team have developed a recipe for success with James handling kitchen and daily operations, and Matthesa driving marketing and sales. I sat down with the Carib 21 duo to hear their thoughts on food, business and the future of Toronto’s Caribbean food landscape. Check it out below.
What’s your favourite item on the Carib21 menu?
James: The Jerk Chicken for sure but I’ve also introduced a new Jerk burger, which is a beef burger with a special jerk marinade, served with fries and coleslaw.
Matthesa: I find that the chicken here is amazing, the Jerk and BBQ Chicken are my favourites. The roti is also great- it has a bit of a kick but is not overpowering.
What does good food mean to you?
Matthesa: It’s beautiful, delicious and filling. Good food is a meal that is prepared with a lot of love. It may sound cliché but you know when someone is passionate about the food their cooking; you can taste it in the spices they use and the overall flavour. When you can’t wait to take one more bite, you know you’re having a good meal.
What’s your vision for Carib 21?
Matthesa: Our motto is “ uniting the Caribbean, one meal at a time.” To bring that Caribbean flavour and a unification of the cuisine. We know there are great Jamaican and Trinidadian restaurants. But perhaps it doesn’t always have to be so classified. Carib 21 will have several locations citywide and become a place where you can get a popular meal from across the islands and enjoy all that the different countries have to offer.
What have you noticed in the Toronto Caribbean food scene?
James : I love cooking but in Toronto, there’s a stigma around Caribbean food and service. I want Carib 21 to be part of the change. I’d like to see Carib 21 become a household name…and when people come in, they won’t keep asking the same questions of where you’re from (to determine what’s good on the menu). Instead Carib 21 will be a pan-Caribbean establishment that showcases it all.
James also noted that there are several popular dishes that have yet to be showcased to the mainstream. For instance, Trinidadian Pelau is a staple Trini dish but it’s rarely seen on menus across the city. After getting his core menu established he plans to expand his repertoire with Caribbean classics rarely found in popular restaurants chains.
What should new restaurant business owners expect?
Matthesa: Building a business is fun but stressful. Be ready for the challenge.
Most businesses are building from the ground up with limited resources. And when you’re starting you may not have all the resources.. that uncertainty can be stressful. There are challenges and surprises…it’s definitely a steep learning curve. But there are lots of lessons and fun along the way. I love meeting new people and making connections.
Carib 21 also made me realize I have quite the business spirit, I have flyers in my purse and love getting the word out.
For Matthesa who utilizes social media to promote her restaurant, using this platform to connect with new clients is very rewarding. She notes that it’s led to new opportunities, leads and customers.
What advice do you have for an aspiring restauranteur?
James: Make sure you have a good support system…and that you’re not going into it expecting to get rich in a couple years. You may see huge line ups at certain restaurants and think success is simple, but what you don’t see is that they’ve been building their business and tweaking their menus for 6 or 7 years. As a restaurant owner you can be working for years without getting paid. That’s something that can take aspiring business owners by surprise, so if you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, know who you can go to for support at all stages of the businesses growth.
Ps. we’re doing a GIVEAWAY this holiday season in Partnership with Carib 21! Win a lunch for 2!
* Interview was condensed for article
*Carib 21 restaurant doubles as an event space on the weekends and offers catering services.