Moya’s feel good food
“MEALS AND MEMORIES are made here”.
That is the sign which greets you upon entering Café Moya, located in Sunset Crest, St James, along the picturesque West Coast of the island.
Marguerite Moe is the face behind the café. Her story is a magical one, of believing in her dreams and allowing herself to take risks, with no regrets or intentions of looking back.
“Many years ago my sister Liz and I were working in corporate jobs, but we both love food, so one day she said to me, “Let’s open a food business,” she explained.
Coincidentally, a few months later her boss was killed in a car accident and so the opportunity presented itself for her to do just that.
She said, “I said to myself, ‘You know what? I have to live my dreams’. Through that tragedy I decided life is short and took the plunge. It lasted for about five years. We were located on the South Coast where the sewage project was going on for two of those five years, and it crushed us. We eventually had to close that business. Then Liz got married and went to live in England but I continued and opened up Café Moya nine years ago.”
Moe explained that her love for food has always been there. “From age seven, I remember nagging my grandmother to let me make a cake. She always told me I was too young but I nagged until one day she allowed me to sit on her lap and make this cake.
“I remember getting the old mixing bowl and a wooden spoon to make this batter, which I placed in a baking pan, and sat watching the oven the whole time the cake was in there. When it came out I wanted to cut it right away. She said no, I had to wait until it cooled and until after dinner. From there I never left the kitchen,” she said as her green eyes lit up at the memory.
“As a teenager I baked cupcakes at school for friends and birthdays. I did a lot of pastries, but I still had that undying love for food, so I was always sneaking in the kitchen and trading chores with my brothers that would allow me to do the cooking and them the cleaning,” she said.
Moe is a self-trained cook. “I did a lot of self-training and in more recent years used YouTube videos to expand my skills. And I have a few acclaimed chefs who I follow,” she explained.
Café Moya makes all its stuff from scratch: breads, baguettes, crepes and pastries. “I believe that that is the essence of where good food comes from, and I try to maintain it as much as I possibly can once I can find the ingredients,” said Moe.
One of the cafe signature dishes is the cassava crepe, which is a big hit with visitors. In her investigations, Moe looked at a few dishes out of Central and Latin America. With many gluten-free customers frequenting her café, she decided to add the item to her menu.
“One of them suggested that I open up an avenue for that because I have many clients who come to my store and it would be amazing. So through her suggestion I did some research, and wanting to be different, I adapted a recipe for crepes using cassava flour which is served as part of our breakfast menu.
“I also developed cassava bread, which is a mix of all-purpose gluten free flour and cassava flour to get the balance because it’s very technical. It can be either too heavy, too dry; it crumbles and it took a lot of experimenting to perfect it,” she added.
Also in the gluten-free realm they offer an arepa, which is a Venzuelan local dish made from corn which is ground into flour, also suggested by Venzuelan customer. He volunteered to show her how to make them and he visited the café with all the needed ingredients and rolled up his sleeves.
“They were superb, and have been a part of the menu since then.”
She also does a plantain empanada, which is plantain based and filled with a spicy cooked saltfish and served for breakfast or for lunch, with Arepa or scrambled eggs on the side or customers can swap it for lunch with a salad and use the arepa as the bread.
“A few days ago, a customer told me she googled “gluten-free in Barbados” and the café came up. She has been in four times and she has said even in London, gluten-free diners and restaurants are difficult to find, so she was extremely impressed that an island like Barbados would have these things.
“I do have a lot of persons who message via Facebook and they do come in whenever they visit Barbados, so the crowd at the café has gotten quite large over the years. I even have a follower from Japan who has a global café directory which I have joined, so I am a part of over 500 cafés which he has in his directory from around the world,” she said.
Moe, who loves interacting with her customers, personally considers them members of her family and calls them “Moyans”. “I have customers who if we are really busy would walk in and go wash dishes in the kitchen, and just be part of what this business is. I think it is my staff and the love we have for this job that we have built a very personal relationship which is important. And that in itself gives me the inspiration to go further and deeper into my job,” she said, smiling broadly.
She does have plans to expand her business one day, but for now she is quite comfortable with all that she has accomplished thus far. “Going forward, I would like the café to evolve some more, not necessarily more branches but make it bigger. We would be celebrating our 10th anniversary next July, and if I see at the end of this season that I do need to expand then I would definitely do so. I am also looking at opening twice in the season for dinner a week, so we have some plans from January. I like to master things first and when I have that sorted, I would move onto the next level,” she pointed out.
Her advice to those seeking to enter into her line of business? “You must love it. It’s long hours; blood sweat and tears to the grind. It’s tedious and hectic. Follow your dream if you have a passion for it. I know so many people in corporate jobs who have opted to come out of it and live their passions. I think if you really and truly love something it is expressed in all you do, and for Café Moya this is a result of that very passion.”