Jamaican Norman “Tony” Bowen, who spent most of his career working in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, has entered the extremely competitive frozen dinner market in New York, providing the public with frozen foods with authentic Jamaican flavor.
Bowen learned to cook from his mother during his childhood years growing up in Pembroke Hall, St. Andrew, Jamaica. He migrated to the United States in 1978, and now, after some 40 years, his Jamaica Choice Foods company, whose products are available under the NormDe brand, is bringing frozen foods based on his late mother’s recipes to the general marketplace.
Bowen, a graduate of St. Aloysius Primary School and Jamaica College, launched Jamaica Choice Foods with his life partner Deborah Fagan, in 2021. They began with the preparation and packaging of four of Jamaica’s favorite dishes: curried chicken, brown stew chicken, curried goat, and oxtail. Sadly, Fagan passed away on October 15, 2021, just as Jamaica Choice Foods was starting out.
Entering the food business had been Bowen’s dream ever since he learned to cook from his mother. He noted that Jamaican mothers like to teach their sons to cook, and his mother told him that she did not want anyone to take advantage of him because he could not prepare his own meals. Bowen believes his mother was “the best cook in the world,” and he held on to the dream of becoming involved in the food business one day.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided the impetus for Bowen’s entry into the food business. While all existing Jamaican food outlets in the New York area were doing well in the pandemic, Bowen decided not to open a restaurant. Instead, he decided to take advantage of the growing frozen food market, which showed a distinct lack of Jamaican food offerings. He also realized that focusing on the provision of Jamaican frozen foods did not mean he was competing with Jamaican restaurants. He would be providing a different type of service, which was in growing demand during the pandemic when people did not want to leave their homes to stand in line for take-out.
The meals for Jamaica Choice Foods are prepared at a Long Island facility that has been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Receiving the USDA approval allowed Jamaica Choice Foods to prepare 1,000 meals a day at the facility. It now supplies 32 supermarkets with the frozen meals that retail at US$10 and US$12 apiece. They are also available online through Grubhub and Doordash.
The company’s long-term goal is to get the airlines to resume offering Jamaican meals. This was done during the Air Jamaica years, Bowen said.
Photo – LinkedIn