Theresa Roberts first came to London in the 1960s as a young girl and brought with her the true taste of Jamaican cuisine. She quickly found her talent for home-cooked, authentic food and in 2013 decided to make the leap into the restaurant industry introducing a drop of Caribbean sunshine to the London food scene.
Here, Theresa chats to us about how she got to where she is today and why her husband still makes her cook, even on holiday.
Who/what inspired you to set up Jamaica Patty Co?
My husband was the first person to encourage me to set up Jamaica Patty Co. He has always loved my cooking – so much so that even when we are on holiday he asks for my special roast chicken – and inspired me to share my love of Jamaican food with others.
I started researching the industry and found that although many other cuisines, such as Mexican, were quickly becoming popular, there was a gap in the market for Jamaican food. I knew I had the expertise and wanted to share all the things I enjoy about eating and drinking Jamaican food and drink with others here in the UK. I decided to get to work last March and, although it is my first time in the restaurant industry, I have a fantastic team who make the best fresh patties around.
How do your locations influence your business?
I knew I wanted a high profile location for my first eatery, somewhere with high footfall and where the demand for Jamaican food would be big. London was a brilliant place because it has such an international market and people are happy to embrace new cuisines.
I originally wanted to launch in 2013 but finding the right location proved difficult. As we were so small and unknown we would often lose out to some of the bigger, well-known brands who were after the same premises. In total we looked at 12 different sites before settling on the one we have now, but in the end it all worked out and we are extremely happy here in Covent Garden.
What is your unique selling point? What makes your brand stand out in such a competitive market?
Being Jamaican. At the moment I believe I’m the only restaurant selling high-quality Jamaican food which remains true to its Caribbean roots. It’s all about spreading the joy I feel when I cook at home with others and introducing new people to new things.
We have also developed a brilliant relationship with a network of suppliers to ensure that our food always has the very best, authentic ingredients. The three key ingredients for any Jamaican dish are: scotch bonnet pepper, spring onions and thyme, so it’s important we always have them in stock.
How do you react to the changing marketplace?
I spend a lot of time in Jamaican Patty Co. listening to what the customers want. That way, I can alter little bits here and there to improve their overall experience.
The first thing I always ask them is have they ever tried a patty. From their response I am able to gauge how many new customers we are introducing to Jamaican cuisine which is in part what it’s all about! If they are a newcomer I always suggest having the jerk chicken patty as it’s full of flavour but not too spicy.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing foodservice businesses like yourselves today?
Finding staff and training them to represent the brand properly. As our brand is so firmly rooted in the Jamaican culture we would love to have more Jamaican staff. However, with the international footfall that London brings, we also want staff who represent our international customers. That way our patties can be sold in any language and more people will be enticed to try our delicious food.
As a business, what are you doing to overcome this challenge?
We are looking at new ways of training our staff so that they truly understand the heritage of the brand no matter where they are from.
What is the biggest business mistake you’ve made and what key learning did you take from it to make your business better?
Fortunately, that is still to come but I firmly believe that there is no substitute for hard work and attention to detail.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Make sure you have got a great product. You cannot sell something that you don't believe in.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to other chefs/entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the industry?
By all means listen to others, but always follow your heart.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Sitting amongst my customers and seeing Jamaicans full of pride. Some are so happy after they have tasted our food that they cry and hug me! Others, who have never had a patty before, come back as soon as they have finished eating, thank me and ask for more!
What are your food trend predictions?
The continual rise of ethnic street food. I welcome any cuisine from around the world because it’s important to try different flavours, but I know my palate and what I like and that’s true Jamaican food. It would be great to see more Caribbean trends hitting the market place as at the moment not many other restaurants have successfully brought the true taste of the islands to Britain. That being said, I don’t want too many people trying to compete with me!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully in charge of a chain of successful restaurants promoting the brilliant flavours of Jamaican food.
What’s your signature dish?
Jerk chicken patties.
When you get the chance, where do you enjoy eating out?
I always enjoying eating out at The Arts Club, Dover Street.
What would be your dream meal? (starter, main and dessert)
I’d start off with a fresh mango and rocket salad followed by grilled lobster with callaloo and sweet potato chips. For dessert you can’t get any better than Jamaican rum cake with coconut ice cream.
Which five people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
- Phillip Thomas (the Jamaican artist)
- Sir Chris Hohn (the philanthropist)
- Bruce Golding (ex-Jamaican Prime Minister)
- David Haye (former WBA heavyweight champion)
- Mica Paris (singer)
What are the three food items you’d take to a desert island?
Avocado, almonds and black grapes.
What’s the one piece of kitchen equipment you couldn’t live without?
A frying pan.