Granted! Food comes first
ELMA GRANT IS REGARDED as the grande dame of Britton’s Hill, St Michael.
Six days of the week her shop, Elma’s Bar & Grocery Inc., is a hive of activity from the moment the doors open early in the morning until they close late into the night. Most days of the week politicians and political aspirants, business people and many other patrons may be found there.
“I love business and dealing with people,” Grant told the SUNDAY SUN on a busy afternoon.
The interview is constantly being interrupted by customers asking to be served as they call out for “Ma Grant”. The silver-haired, bespectacled woman is clearly on top of her game, moving back and forth between the lottery machine and the bar serving people buying tickets and “another mini” rum or fishcakes.
At age 76, the woman who built this bustling business shows no signs of slowing down after more than 40 years. She left the private school Malvern Academy as a teenager and went to Miss Linton on Roebuck street for commercial lessons, later landing her first job as a cashier with Thomas B. Hunte Commission Agents.
The move to Barbados Bakeries as a cashier would open up new opportunities as her business acumen came to the fore. She was given the responsibility of relocating to Grenada in 1959 to supervise the operations of a new branch of Barbados Bakeries there.
Grant was however determined to return to Barbados to live and she still considers her decision to return in 1962 “and try to make life here in business for myself” as one of her wisest.
The food business she started at Cheapside, in Bridgetown with the encouragement and support of her partner George Wilkie grew rapidly.
“I used to get the workers from the [Bridgetown] Port . . . . I had about four [work] gangs who would come to the shop every day for lunch and business was good,” she admitted.
She recalled that her restaurant was also a hive of activity on the morning of December 1, 1966 as many of those who had attended the Independence celebrations on the Garrison the night before headed straight to the Cheapside shop opposite St Mary’s Church to be fed and to continue the revelry.
Grant does not hide her love for the ruling Democratic Labour Party.
“I was in Grenada in 1961 when the lady from the Cable Office next door called me and told me there was a cable from Barbados for me. I told her to read it for me because I could not leave to go and get it . . . .”
The cable turned out to be a request from the DLP for 100 Grenadian-made brooms which were later symbolically used by the Errol Barrow-led party in its winning election campaign to “sweep out” the Barbados Labour Party Government.
Grant remembers being invited to speak on a political platform during an election campaign. Political seats are said to be won or lost at her St Michael South Central landmark bar and grocery, a ‘“watering hole” patrons from different sides of the political divide are seen frequenting as the heat is turned up at election time.
Grant owns the property at the corner of Laynes Road and Villa Road, Britton’s Hill, which she once rented and operated along with her late partner about whom she told the SUNDAY SUN: “He was a good man. We never got married because every time he wanted to get married somehow I put it off.”
Her chances to become Elma Wilkie ran out in 1968 when Wilkie died, leaving Grant, at age 35, to raise five children. She has managed to do that successfully and her children have done her proud, excelling academically and continuing to support their mother.
For this mother of four daughters and a son it has been a case of all hands on deck, and she values the assistance given by her children and grandchildren in the running of her business. It is their way of repaying her for the sacrifices she made raising them as a single mother.
While the matriarch talks to the SUNDAY SUN, in the adjoining grocery section at the back, Grant’s grandson Jason, a business major home for a break following his recent graduation from Kent University in England, is busy assisting his mother, Julie, with that part of the business. Occasionally, he rushes up front responding as his grandmother shouts for him to temporarily come up front and give her hand as things get hectic at the bar counter.
But memories of those days when she would be alone before dawn cooking for workers who used to stop by as early as 5 a.m. to buy a “bread and two” (fish cakes) are not far away in Elma Grant’s mind.
“I worked hard because I knew I had a duty to do. I raised my children single-handedly,” she remarked.
In recent years she has also been relieved of some of the pressure in the kitchen, employing two assistants to help with the cooking she once did alone. Patrons, however, still look forward to “Miss Grant’s hand” in the delicious daily lunches and in the popular weekend barbecues.
The matriarch who continues to be in charge of her business notes some decline in support for her kind of business with the advent of supermarkets. Yet people continue to come to Elma’s Bar and Grocery, partly because in the eyes of her community she is a one-person community council. She has earned a reputation for giving of her time and resources to neighbours, school, church and community organisations, and nurturing and guiding youth in the Britton’s Hill area. Many young people call her mother because that is what she has been to them.
But Elma Grant is also tough. When she refuses a sale of alcohol to an obviously inebriated patron and chastises “you are not getting any more to drink, you have had enough”, that patron accepts that “Ma Grant” knows best.
“You know I don’t stand for foolishness,” she chides one of the regulars whose remarks to another patron appear a bit off-base and with a hearty chuckle she turns back to the SUNDAY SUN and says, “This business is not easy. He knows I don’t tolerate certain behaviour in this shop.”
Grant, a Justice of the Peace, was recently awarded the Barbados Service Medal for her contribution to small business development and commitment to community service in the Britton’s Hill community.