There are plenty of grab-and-go options in the UK, but nothing solely dedicated to Caribbean food. That’s the niche Adrian Luckie wants to fill with his street food brand Mama’s Jerk.
It started as a pop-up, but is now located at Deptford Market Yard, Pop Brixton and Street Feast's Model Market in Lewisham.
But Luckie has his sights set on bigger things. “We are looking at launching in Canary Wharf in November, and from there trying to find some investment and find some more sites,” he tells Food Spark, adding that he's looking at a place on Fleet Street.
“Obviously the problem is there will be rents, rates and costs, but we have got a product that is simple and tasty, good customer service and its quick and reasonably priced, so we can make an entry into the grab-and-go market.”
Luckie says that while there are already Caribbean restaurant chains like Rum Kitchen and Turtle Bay, there isn’t a Caribbean food-to-go offering on the market at the moment.
He may be on to something. Compass Group’s head of insight, Mark Davies, predicted earlier this year that Caribbean could become the next Mexican, with the food ripe for portability.
So what’s the story behind Mama’s Jerk?
Having started out on the street food markets scene, Luckie has been able to perfect his offering in terms of convenience.
The food focuses on variations on two main products: Trinidadian homemade dhal puri rotis and salad boxes, plus other dishes like jerk marinated chicken wings slowly smoked and infused with pimento and fresh thyme, as well as Scotch bonnet peppers pickled with carrots, onion, garlic and ginger.
“We use smoked jerk chicken and put that in the wrap with fresh salad. We also do a vegetarian roti wrap with bean cakes, which are made with sweet potatoes, kidney beans, black eyed peas, fresh herbs, coconut and a secret blend of jerk spices. And we do saltfish cakes as well,” says Luckie.
“We make our own mango mayonnaise sauce, a homemade secret recipe BBQ jerk sauce and homemade hot pepper pickle sauce.”
It’s the secret homemade jerk BBQ that started everything for Luckie. His late nan, who he calls Mama Charlotte, created the sauce. She was experimenting with ingredients and created the recipe in her old farmhouse kitchen in the Jamaican parish of Manchester.
“This jerk BBQ marinade was so tasty she could put it on anything, says Luckie. "Fortunately, she not only passed the recipe down the generations, but she also encouraged her many children and grandchildren to experiment and respect food.
“She made sure that the family recipe remained a secret. Mama’s Jerk has taken Mama Charlotte’s original recipe and love of good quality ingredients to create some exciting Caribbean flavours in a new and modern way.”
It has led Luckie to experiment further with the food offering to include things like fried plantain, jerk spiced fries and even a coconut burger bun.
“We have a brioche burger bun that we add coconut and spices to, to make it a bit unique, and we serve it with the jerk chicken and veggie bean cakes and saltfish,” he says.
“At the Deptford site we are trialling our vegan soya, seasoning it and marinating it with the jerk marinade, and serving that in a normal wrap or with a salad.”
A few months ago Luckie also launched a Caribbean-style biryani.
“It’s called the biryadi and has jerk seasoned rice with peas, plantain and sweetcorn. You can add jerk chicken or mix our bean cakes or fish cakes into it," explains Luckie. "Before that we were getting people asking for rice and jerk chicken, but I don’t want to be like another West Indian takeaway. I’m doing things in a different way and looking at fusion.”
Caribbean food has been in the UK for decades now, albeit not in the mainstream, and Luckie thinks the growing familiarity favours his brand.
So what is it about Caribbean food that could appeal to consumers?
“I think primarily it's lovely, great tasting, home-cooked food. It’s been a part of UK culture for so many generations and was brought over by the best cooks with our mums and grandmothers,” he says.
“I think our culture, the love that we put into the food and the vibes we put in food will mean more people get on board with it.”