In Canada, most immigrants are ready for an overhaul – a fresh start. Many immigrants open themselves to new possibilities in a new economy, and embrace the world of opportunities at their behest. For Theo Myrie that meant going back to fulfill his dreams of being a chef. His food truck business Irie Myrie’s Caribbean Catering Company was just what he had imagined, and proved to be so much more for him once he launched it. The customers were ecstatic to try a new Caribbean food establishment with an emphasis on keeping it real, healthy and fresh, and serving it with love.
Debu had a chance to talk to Theo Myrie of Irie Myrie’s Caribbean Catering Company to get to know more about his business.
Please tell us the story of founding Irie Myrie’s Caribbean Catering Company. What has been some of the biggest challenges for you in this process?
While growing up in Jamaica, I always aspired to be a chef. Before moving to Canada, I had planned to be in tourism, but after moving to Kitchener, Waterloo, I realized that there’s not a lot of tourism, but there were a good number of restaurants around here—however, there was not enough diversity. Trying the limited Caribbean options around here, I realized they weren’t up to par to what we would normally have in Jamaica, where a quick cook on a dish isn’t good enough—it’s all about flavour, preparation and the cooking process. I wanted to fill that gap.
So, I started cooking in my mother’s basement kitchen, and selling food on Facebook. Irie expanded from there to my food truck, and then from the food truck to the restaurant. What really inspired me was the fact that there were not a lot of healthy options for Canadians. And if there were healthy options, they’re very expensive. I wanted to make healthy food affordable. The most challenging thing about starting a business is lack of support. Our generation needs more support. Most people older than us, they have a lot more wealth than our generation, and not many of them are giving back to the community
What would you say is the unique selling point of your business?
What really sells my food is the fact that it’s fresh—always fresh, which is something people love. Also, the facility is clean. What a lot of restaurants fail to understand is that we’ve all been eating food since we were kids, and we all eat food at home, especially leftovers. We know when we go out, when we’re being served fresh food, and when we’re serving food that’s been in the freezer for days, even months. So, that’s what they fail to understand that people know. But the people may not say anything, but they just won’t be coming back to your restaurant. Most of my customers right now, when I look at the data sheet each and every month, they’re 75 to 80 per cent repeat and 25 to 15 per cent new.
Are most of your customers of Caribbean background? Or does Irie Myrie also attract customers who do not have a Caribbean background?
I would say 50 to 75 per cent of our customers are non-Caribbean and the rest are Caribbean.
What do you think is the relationship between food and health and well-being? How does Irie Myrie include health-consciousness in cuisine?
Food is everything. I always explain to people in a way that we can all understand. Look at a car: a high-end car and a low-end car. If you put lower quality fuel in a high-end car, the car will not work. Even with a low-end car, if you don’t take care of it—doing your proper oil change and putting in proper fuel in it, the car will not run. Our body is exactly like that. If you put proper and healthy food into our body, our body will perform the best. But if you put food that just goes into our body and its impact lasts no longer than half an hour, then we are doing a lot of harm to ourselves.
I want to put an end to all this fast food. Rather, I shouldn’t say put an end to fast food, but [that fast food establishments] can make a healthier version of it because it’s affordable and doable, just the way I’ve been doing it for the last seven years. That’s what I’m trying to change right now.
If we have a healthier society, just imagine three to four generations from now. Instead of spending so much on healthcare to cure food-related illnesses such as diabetes, we can save a lot more money by being preventive in our consumption habits.
What is your favourite part of Caribbean cuisine and how do you hope that your passion for the cuisine translates into the dishes you create?
For me, it’s the freshness, the flavors, the spice…It’s the authenticity of it—and the most important thing is that people who cook the food, they do it with love. So, you can taste that. The thing about cooking is—and that’s why sometimes we prefer a certain person to cook our food—that person’s energy is being placed into that food whenever it’s being cooked. So, it’s not just, say, you’re just eating ingredients and that’s just it. Our energy, peoples energy, goes into the food.
Ortheta Anan | Contributing Writer