Raising the BAR
ONE HAND CAN’T CLAP is a Bajan saying that aptly describes the relationship between business partners Keisha Turney and Jamal Hall, who know that each has an important role to play in keeping their business afloat and keeping it on the tongues of patrons.
Barbados is a unique Caribbean island in terms of its food. The standard of the island’s restaurants has seen a boom in world-class dining – offering everything from sushi bars to internationally acclaimed restaurants.
For those who like to mingle with the locals there are the local pubs that offer macaroni pie and flying fish, and pudding and souse.
One such local spot is B.A.R. Cutters, where home is a small rum shop nestled snugly in Dunlow Lane, off Bay Street. The rum shop is owned by Joel and Mert but their daughter Keisha has got their permission to use it to create delicious food to satisfy the hunger of their many patrons.
The business has gone through some changes, such as expanding the menu (to the delight of customers), but because of demand they have had to decrease their days of operation.
“B.A.R. Cutters is almost two years old,” said Jamal. “It actually started out because of economic instability . . . . I was in a job that saw me going four months without pay while Keisha was feeling stagnant in her job as an auditor.
“Keisha said ‘why we don’t sell some ham cutters out my dad’s bar?’”
Keisah said the idea came because she realised that the many patrons who bought drinks also wanted snacks to eat.
“You know how Bajan rum shops are. The men would buy tuna, corn beef and biscuits and different stuff and eat while drinking,” she explained.
Keisha said dad was on board right away.
The name B.A.R Cutters and logo came from Jamal whose background is in graphics.
“I said we can’t be just a normal rum shop selling cutters. We are a bar that sell cutters.
The menu first had on only ham cutters and then rum sauce was created to give a unique taste and set them apart from the other ham cutters around town.
“It was supposed to be a hot sauce and we gradually changed it to a sweet sauce over about eight months,” said Jamal, who professed throughout the interview that he has basic skills in cooking and gave praise to Keisha who actual tends to the kitchen and the accounts while he does the other “creative” business side.
The duo then started a social media account to get the word out. They quickly realised that ham is a “strange meat” and while Bajans are known to be “pork mouths” they were not getting the returns they wanted.
“We said let us look at the menu and come up with some different items.”
The rum shop kitchen was turning out a heavy load six days a week – moving from Mondays to Wednesdays (just ham cutters), then also adding Fridays and Saturdays to eventually including Thursdays. On their basic menu was: ham cutters; loaded fries (a snack box with chips covered with ham and melted cheese); Fisham cakes (traditional Bajan fishcakes with ham inside) and lamb burgers with a cranberry coleslaw.
Jamal and Keisha said first-timers were surprised at the size of the rum shop when they came for orders.
“We are just a small establishment. I take the pictures of the food and the selfies next to a paling,” said Jamal, laughing.
Jamal and Keisha call themselves “foodies” – willing to experiment and put twists on recipes and even invent a few.
One innovation was their loaded fries launched last year after Saturdays were slowing down because Thursdays and Fridays were added to the delivery days.
The response was staggering.
The pizza fries is the big brother of the loaded fries. In a group meeting with their staff (driver and kitchen assistant), the snack box idea for the fries was thrown out and the pizza box was introduced.
That box made such a difference.
The pizza fries come in an eight-inch pizza box full of chips covered with rum sauce, minced beef, pepperoni, pineapple and two types of cheese. This was just a special for only November but the overwhelming demand saw them doing it until New Year’s Day because demand was so great.
On New Year’s Day, even with 40 lbs of beef for the pizza fries, by 2 p.m. they were sold out.
“We had to turn away orders. That was a disappointment to us. We had so many orders yet to fulfill and people were outside still waiting,” said Jamal.
The two said customer service drives their business so the orders that couldn’t be fulfilled they did a special day just for them.
The two said the big plans they have for the business are falling into place.
They have done many Crop Over events and because of their rum sauce they have a deal with Mount Gay.
“What we have achieved so far is a little humbling,” said Jamal. “The goals we have have kept us on our toes. We have to give thanks to the BAR cutters crew who support us every week.”
Jamal said two years ago when they started the business his parents were sceptical, urging him not to give up his Government job for an unsure thing.
“Now my family are behind me 100 per cent. Two years ago we started this with no experience in food or running a business. And through trial and error we have gotten better.”
Keisha who runs the kitchen has the heavier load. She is up at 5:30 a.m. to prep for the day’s orders. Everything is made hot and fresh and they have their own butcher to supply the Black Belly sheep. They have now scaled down the days to just Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m., and noon to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to specific menu days.
“In our experimentation we have thrown out food,” said Keisha, looking at Jamal who laughed sheepishly.
“Sometimes, I say ‘Jamal, these fisham cakes don’t taste right. . . . I don’t like how the sauce come out . . .”.
“I help with the cooking,” Jamal interjected. “But I am more of a facilitator. We conceptualise everything. When you have a partnership you have to play to each other’s strengths. My strength is marketing and Keisha also does the accounts, along with the majority of the cooking. She keeps the books looking nice.”
While the business is looking to have a food truck, the Dunlow Lane B.A.R Cutters will remain.
“We will never forget where we come from. We stay true to what we are. I always correct people who say we are a restaurant. We are not. We are a traditional Bajan rum shop that sell modern-day rum shop cuisine.”
The two say running a business is a lot of hard work and they never take anything for granted. Their message of inspiration: “Never keep your ideas in your head. Get up and go. Be disciplined and always be consistent in your service.”