A Jamaican restaurant in Australia!!! We had the same thought of disbelief. So we thought we would get some answers from Roderick Grant, owner of Yeah Maan Rastaurant in this month’s 10 Questions series.
Q1: Are you Jamaican? Tell us the story of how you got to Australia?
Yes I am Jamaican. I was born in St. Thomas (York district), where most of my family still lives. My dad moved to Australia in the early 90’s to establish a better life for our family, my brother and I then followed in 1995, and a few years later my mother and my three younger brothers joined us. I was just 15 years old when I arrived in the big AUS and it was very different from back home as you can imagine. I finished high-school here and then went on to complete further studies in business marketing. Australia is a great place to live and it has many opportunities for those who want to make the most of it.
Q2. How did the idea come about to open a Jamaican restaurant in Australia?
Well, the story starts with a friend of mine who moved into a building that had an empty space on the ground floor – so what else would you do with an empty space that you had no personal use for? Start a restaurant!
Q3. How long before you opened the doors?
The doors first opened in 1997 after some renovation work, I initially worked there as manager then took over ownership in 2000.
Q4: How has the restaurant been doing? Was it viewed as a novelty idea to most Australians? Did you believe you would have this much success?
The restaurant has been doing very well. Australians are very adventurous people, they love the idea of Jamaica and the Caribbean and that is also due to the fact that they are cricket fanatics. In regards to a small business, it is a struggle for the first few years however I believe in what my team and I do. We move from strength to strength each year; it is stressful but you remain strong especially when you have the support of good people behind you who are always eager to help out.
Q5: How many Jamaicans live in Australia? Do they visit the restaurant regularly? Have they made the restaurant a meeting place for Jamaicans?
There is only a small community of Jamaicans in Australia and the restaurant has become a meeting place for them, it is also the first touch point for traveling Jamaicans or Jamaicans who are new residents in Australia. They come here to enjoy the culture that is familiar to them and also to make new friends and contacts. The West Indian cricket team is also regular at the restaurant when they are in town and this is of course a great novelty for us. We have had the wailers visit as well and many others.
Q6: What would you say is the top selling dish in the restaurant?
The top selling dishes on the menu are without a doubt – jerk chicken and curry goat.
Q7: Since Jamaican food is probably not in the mainstream in Australia have you used any particular marketing strategy for the Restaurant?
The restaurant basically sells itself – everybody loves the idea of the Caribbean and you definitely get a real sense that you have been transported there when you enter the restaurant – further we always emphasize the authenticity of the cooking – good home cooking by Jamaican natives. We really can say that we are the only authentic Jamaican restaurant to date in Australia.
Q8: I have to ask this…Do you have Manish water and/or Cow Cod soup on the menu? Also where do you get the seasoning to cook the food?
I am quite sure that there is no market for cow cod soup in this country, so I won’t be scaring the locals, but we do make some things with notice for Caribbean bookings. There is room for Manish water on the winter specials menu. Some of our spices we mix our self and there is also a company who imports spices and funnily enough we can also find some things at the local wholesaler.
Q9: What is the weirdest question you have been asked about Jamaicans and Jamaican food since you opened the restaurant?
I always get asked if all Jamaicans smoke weed (?!?) – obviously this is a Rasta stereotype, and the answer is no. There have not been any weird questions in regards to the food – not yet anyway.
Q10: Have you considered opening another restaurant in another part of Australia and what things do you do to promote the Jamaican culture in Australia?
I would not mind opening a restaurant in another part of the country, the problem is finding a chef who can cook authentic Jamaican/ Caribbean food; so for now we are happy with what we have running at the moment. The restaurant has lots of photo’s, paintings, books and poetry that customers can peruse through when they come for dinner, this way they can get an idea of the culture behind the food. We also participate in various food festivals and dinner dances were we show off Jamaica via our food and great service and music.
Q: Do you have any advice or closing comments for the visitors and reader of the Jamaicans.com website?
When you’re down in Melbourne please drop in and say hello and of course have a bite to eat – we are waiting for you! : )