Opening a café isn’t easy, but long hours, late nights and living off £50 a day didn’t stop Jeanette Campbell. Here’s how she went from home cook to Caribbean restaurant entrepreneur.
– You had ackee – it’s different from okra, explains Jeanette and smiles. I have just confused two typical Caribbean vegetables, common ingredients in several of the dishes at the menu of Fi Real, a Caribbean Café and Restaurant in Bristol. In fact ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, the country in which Jeanette and her husband William were born and spent a decent part of their lives. Until about sixteen years ago, when they left Montego Bay to move to Britain.
– We are people of faith – it’s really an integral part of our life, says Jeanette while telling the story behind one of Bristol’s most unique restaurants.
I am a nurse by profession. My husband is a barber. But our fingers know how to cook this food.
From smoothies to food
The atmosphere at Fi Real is more home-cooking cosy than fancy food joint. It’s early afternoon but still some lunch guests sit peacefully munching Jerk Tofu and Spicy Kale and Jamaican Curried Chunks. Most of them seem to be regulars who chat and laugh when William, Jeanette’s husband, looks out from the kitchen. It’s hard to tell the difference between customers and staff – they all know each other.
– I am a nurse by profession. And my husband is a barber. But he also made juices and served them in the barber shop – and the juices sold really well so we started looking for a bigger space, continues Jeanette.
The couple soon came across an empty space on West Street in Bristol. The building was run down but the space looked okay. Jeanette got an idea, in fact the brilliant idea that would lead to one of the first vegan Caribbean restaurants in the Southwest:
– When we saw how big the space was, we thought – why not also cook up some food? That food you can’t really explain, but that you know from momma and grandma’s fingers …
Driven by the idea of serving Caribbean food in their new-found venue – Jeanette and William took on the task of transforming the anonymous and sterile room into a personal cafe and restaurant. To handle the rising costs of necessities – friends and family helped them out showing endless support.
We are so passionate about this type of food, my husband has been a vegan for twenty years. Way before it became trendy.
– It is really a product of love, says Jeanette and looks around. Our daughter made the logo and the drawings on the walls, I have told her that she has to sign them …
Having set up the shop, they faced next challenge. Making people aware of the new place serving delicious Jamaican food. Or as business people would say – building up a customer base. Jeanette is being honest about how tough the first year was. Being located on a slow street turned out to make it quite a challenge.
– It was a big learning curve. Making 50 pounds a day – it wasn’t really like we were millionaires the first year. And without our faith, we would have broken down, she admits.
Be honest and stick to your values
The word spread about the friendly couple cooking delicious food to good prices, treating all guests more as friends than customers.
– We never thought we were friendly, we just thought we were normal. Then we heard some people saying: these people are so friendly – so we thought: well we must be doing something right.
Jeanette turns serious. Being friendly doesn’t mean that Fi Real lack integrity.
– For instance, we’re alcohol free, we would feel really guilty giving people alcohol, because the Caribbean culture is not an alcohol culture. Period. A philosophy that goes perfectly well with the impression of Fi Real. Healthy honest vegan food and twisted delicious juices and smoothies made out of fresh fruits.
– If you have an ethos in healthy eating – it also has to carry through to a healthy lifestyle. My husband had been a vegan for twenty years, way before it became trendy.
Next steps …
From the struggling first year, Jeanette and William today have a steady growing crowd of loyal customers. The duo has also learnt that offering take-out is really profitable. The short-term plan at the moment is to move to a busier area and focusing mainly on take-outs for lunch and keep the old place (only) open for dinners.
Jeanette doesn’t hide her long-term plans – to take Fi Real to other cities and towns in the southern England. But that requires an investor. Someone who supports vegan and honest food.
– It’s not about the money for us, we’re looking for someone who has the same ethos as us, we’re happy to give a good percentage to the right person, she says.
It’s not about the money for us, we’re looking for someone who has the same ethos as us.
That person is more than welcome to reach out to Jeanette and William. Anyone in doubt is encouraged to drop by for lunch or indulge a delicious fresh smoothie. We ensure a great Jamaican culinary experience.
Fi Real accepts – and encourages – card payments thanks to iZettle.