Two brothers in south London have taken a £ 500 Caribbean kitchen business to a nationwide distribution network – and have done it all during the pandemic.
Troy and Jarrell Johnson, who were born and raised in Tooting, are the founders of Juici Jerk, a food company that has managed to thrive during difficult times of the pandemic.
The brothers stumbled upon a successful system to bring the restaurant experience to the homes of the British public.
But it hasn’t always been easy.
“Starting with £ 500 seems like an eternity,” Troy said. “Neither of us had any business experience. We grew up in a traditional Caribbean family with a big family and something was always cooking in the kitchen.
“We got the £ 500 to cook chicken in a jerk van, we bought a few deep fryers and stuff and it all really took off from there.
“We used Snapchat and managed to get our name on there and then people started calling us asking if they could have chicken. That’s when we thought ‘wait, we’re cold on something here “.”
Once the business took off, Juici Jerk mainly dealt with corporate kitchen events, landing their first big contract with Halfords.
“At this point, we were still at my mom’s house in Tooting preparing all the food,” Troy said. “She was trying to kick us out saying ‘It’s getting a little silly now boys!'” Troy joked. “But we still didn’t really know what we were doing.”
The Johnsons moved the operation to a shared kitchen in Streatham five days a week and focused on the events when the pandemic struck.
“Almost overnight they were all canceled,” Troy said. “Deliveroo took 35% of every order and it became impossible to keep your head above water. That’s when we came up with the idea for the meal kits.
The initiative that has helped Juici Jerk grow is its meal kits, which provide a dining experience at home.
These are ready meals delivered to an address with a step-by-step booklet explaining how to prepare them.
“Someone even ordered one from Edinburgh!” Said Troy.
Troy also spoke about the difficulty of being black men in the food industry and the fact that there is not enough representation of black kitchens.
“We had done a few street food residences in food markets, but they never allow two Caribbean food stalls or one black food stall in the market at the same time.
“They say they want to increase diversity but have four hamburger restaurants in the same market. I know of black-owned businesses that have tried and failed to get places in the markets because of it.
“If Caribbean food isn’t in your face on Deliveroo, no one seems to be able to order it.”
This, among others from the Black Lives Matter movement, inspired the Johnson brothers to help other black-owned businesses by raising funds for grants of £ 1,000.
“Black Lives Matter was strong,” Troy said. “Businesses and corporations have seen the need to update their practices, so we’ve launched a GoFundMe and are working with big names to raise £ 10,000 so we can help raise black businesses and help them grow. .
“Sometimes it’s like ‘how did we come to this without any investment?’
Everything we do, we do it ourselves. It’s good to give back and help someone on their way.
“Our parents are proud, they are waiting for us to buy them a house!
Troy said that once the pandemic subsides and life returns to normal, they will try to launch a new line of products, including sauces.
“I know it sounds cliché, but for anyone starting a business, don’t give up.
“We have hit so many obstacles and the reason we are seeing success now is because we have persevered.”