It’s almost 4 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, the school race is in full swing and Charlotte Thompson is hoping for a well-deserved break. It’s bad luck for her, however, as there’s standing room only at her restaurant on Clare Road in Grangetown.
Although it has only been open for a few weeks, it has become a familiar sight for Charlotte and her team. Sandwiched between a barber and a cafe, his restaurant, The Caribbean Way, has already become one of Grangetown’s most popular eateries, with people coming from all over Cardiff and beyond to sample signature dishes.
It’s a small-scale operation, with the small unit offering just enough space for a handful of tables and chairs, but certainly delivers big flavors and smells. In fact, the cozy restaurant’s size adds to its appeal, as the lovely aroma of jerk chicken, curried goat, and other best-selling dishes is trapped, reaching almost intoxicating levels.
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It’s not hard to see why the restaurant has already been a huge hit in Grangetown. Not only does it offer something different from the endless rows of kebab shops and pizzerias you see on many city streets, but it’s also food that’s clearly cooked with love and, above all, tastes really good. taste. We went to try it out for ourselves and you can read what we thought of it here.
After finding a free moment between serving hungry customers, Charlotte has a chance to reflect on how far her business has come over the past few years. Growing up around Caribbean cuisine, she always knew she wanted to have her own restaurant and emulate her family’s success.
“As a child I always loved to cook and I was always in that kind of environment. My dad used to do takeaways in Splott and my mom always worked in the restaurant business so I would help them in cooking when I was younger.
“Growing up, I always spent a lot of time with my grandmother in London. She lived in North West London, so there were a lot of Caribbean influences there. At the time, I hated being shipped off to London every summer vacation, but when I look back now it’s a great memory and one that obviously inspired me.
She added: “You could say that I really grew up around it. But I wanted to go further and have my own restaurant. My brother tried to open one but it didn’t work out, so I ended up taking over the brand, and started catering events, like funerals, Christmas parties, things like that.”
After creating her brand in 2014, Charlotte largely operated from her own kitchen as she hosted events, seeking to gain exposure. She quickly built a loyal fan base, but as interest in The Caribbean Way grew, she admits she faced a number of setbacks trying to take her passion to the next level.
“When I started, I really relied on word of mouth, family and friends, and social media like Facebook as well,” she said. “Soon I had quite a few people who knew me and liked our food, but financially we were just shattered. was just not going to happen at that time.”
But after taking time to clear her head over the holidays, Charlotte began taking steps that would eventually see her open her first brick-and-mortar restaurant a few years later. Get the latest Cardiff news straight to your inbox with our newsletters.
“I was still working in cosmetics at that time,” she said. “But I had just had enough of the trade. So I went on vacation, took a little break and came back thinking, ‘well, what am I going to do with myself?’. J had heard there was a space available on Dumballs Road in Butetown in a small shack so I inquired about it.
“I didn’t really think about it because I had asked the question before and it had gone to someone else. But I had thought for a while that it would be a good stepping stone for me. He didn’t there was no it took a lot of money to run it it was fully equipped and all i had to bring with me was really stock i was thrilled when we got it it was natural and that was a big step for me.
But even after securing the portacabin, other challenges were around the corner for Charlotte and her team as the country entered a nationwide lockdown at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, just three weeks after they opened on Dumballs Road. However, as seems to be her nature, she has found a way to succeed in a situation that has seen so many other businesses fall apart.
“We had to close for a month after only being open for a few weeks,” she said. “It was obviously frustrating, especially as we only reopened to close again shortly afterwards on several occasions. But even though it was obviously a difficult time for everyone, we managed to make of the company a success during Covid.
“People were home and always ordering takeout, so we were busy. This cabin was so small you couldn’t really sit in it anyway, so instead we had windows through that we could get the food through and still be safe. We did really well out of it.
She added: “Then around Christmas, I wanted another source of income. I thought people couldn’t go to a restaurant, so I had the idea of bringing the restaurant experience to them. I had seen these igloos somewhere and thought they would allow people to have a romantic meal under the stars while staying Covid safe.
“I didn’t expect them to be as popular as they were, but they got huge interest and people who tried them really loved them too. It was hard to keep doing that as we were coming back from lockdown so i put it on the back burner but to be honest it was a really exciting time obviously the pandemic has been very difficult for business but there were also these opportunities that we really helped too.
Even before the pandemic, however, Charlotte had helped make a name for herself by putting on food for some music, sports and TV stars. An avowed party girl, her connections have seen her host touring rappers as well as Cardiff City footballers.
“When I go out, I meet a lot of people,” she said. “A friend of mine was the tour manager for J Hus so he told me he was coming to Cardiff and needed food for his tour. It all really started from there, a lot of people have seen this so now artists who come here on tour have me as a point of contact for food.
“So I’ve done catering for other artists like Nines and Skrapz and footballers like Leandro Bacuna and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing have come a lot. Obviously there aren’t a lot of Caribbean places in Cardiff so when we have one, everyone knows this.”
With a few celebrity endorsements already under her belt, this year Charlotte moved into her new restaurant. Having lived in Grangetown all her life, the transition from the hut on Dumballs Road to the bustling Clare Road was another natural and positive step for her and her business.
“I’m a Grangetown girl, so being based here now is great,” she said. “We came and looked at this space and it was fine. Having been in the cabin I wanted somewhere people could sit and eat because I feel like I have to eat some of my food right away, if you take it’s not the same.
“I was really excited about it, but I definitely threw myself into the deep end with this place. I had to get planning permission and everything, so after closing the cabin in September last year, this n t was only at the end of March that we opened here.
“So it was stressful, but it was worth it,” she added. “I’m really happy with the reception we’ve had so far, we’re very popular on Deliveroo and the restaurant has been very busy.
“I think being from the area really helps, people who know me come for food and I think being here makes it much more accessible to us than we were on Dumballs Road. We really enjoy being in our new place, but people are already saying we’ll have to move to a bigger space soon. I’m like, give me a break, we just moved here!”
So what’s the plan for the future? Having recently partnered with Depot for their Rum & Reggae festival, Charlotte is focused on the here and now, but still has big ambitions for her business.
“Ultimately, I want a franchise,” she said. “It’s really my dream. I would like to start in Wales, maybe open somewhere in Swansea, but I would also like to get out of Wales at some point. It would be amazing.”
After accomplishing so much in such a short time, you’d be crazy to bet against Charlotte and her team. With a determined boss, delicious dishes and a growing army of fans, the future is bright for The Caribbean Way.