Hakeem Wahid preparing some pastries in the kitchen at Sweet Rock Café. (Picture by Lennox Devonish.)
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SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Hakeem Wahid wants to explode the myth that children of black-owned businesses do not carry on in their parents’ footsteps to keep the profession alive.
He is being groomed by his mother, Jameelia Wahid, to take over the family business, Sweet Rock Café, and set a path for his two younger brothers, Akeel, 11 and Cairo, 8.
Hakeem, a former student of Frederick Smith, who left school without certification, is confident that he has what it takes to meet the challenge of managing the business in the future because he has a feel for learning about the 10-year-old business from the time he was a little over six years of age.
The bakery and cook-shop are based in Black Rock Complex, St Michael, for the last six years. He works on the bread van also alongside the kitchen manager daily and helps to make the food and pastries, does the shopping and daily gains first-hand knowledge of how the business functions.
“My mum is always telling me this business is going to be yours, so you have to come see what is going on so I would know how to run it if anything happens to her; she wants it to pass down through the Wahid bloodline,” Hakeem said.
Come January, Hakeem will be at the Barbados Hospitality Institute to pursue Beginner’s Cooking and then International Cooking. His ultimate plan is to expand Sweet Rock Café and pass it on to his brothers and to have his own restaurant by the age of 25, the same age his mother started her business.
“I was going to be a real estate lawyer but my dad was a chef before he passed away, so everyone asked me why I don’t follow in my father’s footsteps, continue that legacy. I did not really like it but after I got in the kitchen I started to like it,” Hakeem said.
With 11 staff members currently, Hakeem wants to, like some of the better known bakeries in the island, have an island-wide operation.
Helping him to get there is not only his mother, but his grandmother who bought him his first chef outfit when he had an internship at Divi Southwinds Beach Resort where he got to work alongside Executive Chef Henderson Butcher. “I have to give big thanks to her,” he said while adding that the experience was very tiring.
The family support is critical to Hakeem, whose father died when he was 11 years old. “It was a very tough experience. At first I was not believing it, but the day of the funeral I believed. It was hard for me,” he said.
He uses the fact that he does not have his father to depend on as impetus to help his brothers and his mother.
“My mother is always there and she tells me what to do and what not to do and to not end up like other boys with guns and to keep off the road. I know the importance of that,” he said.
Describing his relationship with his mother as “very good”, Hakeem said he sometimes gets angry about the things she says, but knows it is for his best.
“She works really hard, she is always doing something and she does not get enough rest. I know she does sacrifice a lot.
Even though at his age with the responsibility placed on him Hakeem feels a little pressured, but he gave the guarantee that he is up for the job. He thinks having structure and responsibility are key to his development as a young man.
“It is a lot of pressure. I have to be here at 6 on mornings to go on the road and sell the pastries, then I have to help cook in the shop. I do not get an off-day, but the work keeps me busy and out of trouble.
In spite of the busy schedules, Hakeem said there is always family time as his brothers also help out in the shop and make time for other activities. Akeel does karate and boxing while Cairo plays cricket for his school. Hakeem also plays cricket, though not as often as he would like.
“Working keeps me out of trouble, even though I really do not give trouble, but I am glad it keeps me occupied,” he said. He tries to advise his brothers but said Cairo is really feisty. “He likes to fight and I have to tell him to chill because he never knows who he will go out there and meet and they might do him something and then I have to come to his rescue. Akeel does not do you something unless you trouble him first,” Hakeem said.
Acknowledging that he would not put his mother under any undue pressure, Hakeem said he was determined to make her proud. Though he left school without CXC qualifications, he will start taking classes to do mathematics, English and social studies from January.
While expressing hope that his story can inspire others boys his age, Hakeem’s advice to young people around his age, who also left school without qualifications, is to keep working on improving themselves. “Do not get on the block. Always look for something to do to keep you out of trouble. Even if it is washing cars, you still getting money to support yourself,” he said.
He said he could not see himself going on a block and selling drugs or guns and said it was a mixture of parents not raising their children right and some children just wanting to do what they want.
“Nobody cannot give me no gun, I will tell them I ain’t want nothing to do with that. I got more sense than that,” he said while adding, “Some people got to feel to learn. Not me”. (LK)