Second helping Recent citywide event supports area Caribbean eateries during COVID-19 pandemicFeb 16, 2021 06:51PM ● By Kerith Gabriel
A number of Philadelphia-area Caribbean restaurants took part in October’s Taste the Islands Philly event, designed to provide economic support for many eateries dealing with substantial revenue loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. | Image: Ronise Daluz
Over the last decade, a delicious part of Philadelphia’s fabric has been the fact that it’s become a world-class destination for food.
Both large-scale fine dining and small-scale mom-and-pop restaurants have graced the pages of notable food lists and magazines. After all, the cuisine in the City of Brotherly Love is as eclectic as its makeup. However, since the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s economy has seen an initial revenue decline of nearly $800 million.
The city’s restaurant scene, and the industry as a whole, has been feeling the effects of this economic disparity. Many of those restaurants impacted are known Jamaican restaurants that could benefit from a boost after restrictions have seen patrons dwindled.
It’s this notion that sparked an initiative called “Taste the Islands Philly,” created by the Northeast Chapter of The Jamaica Northeast Diaspora Region, and spearheaded by the Hon. Christopher Chaplin, the honorary consul in Philadelphia, and Dr. Karren Dunkley, a representative of Global Jamaica Diaspora Northeast USA.
The month-long event held in October featured over 50 area Caribbean establishments in an attempt to convey the culture, taste, and most importantly, the value in supporting these eateries. In the aftermath of the campaign, FunTimes Magazine connected with Chaplin to discuss the need, the result, and the future of another Taste the Islands event here in Philadelphia.
Hon. Christopher Chaplin, honorary consul in Philadelphia
Hon. Chaplin, can you talk a bit about the timing and how it all came to pass?
We recognized that the effect of the pandemic on small businesses was catastrophic. Both I and [Dr. Karren Dunkley] spoke and wanted to know if there was any way we could help get people out to some of these businesses. Normally, you might have a restaurant week, but we said, look, a week is not going to be sufficient, so we decided on the entire month of October. What was great is that we brought together members of the community and Jamaican community organizations who were all committed, and we decided for more inclusion that we’d open it up to all Caribbean restaurants.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect planning the Taste the Islands Philly event?
Initially, we had integrated visits to all the restaurants within the marketing campaign; going into the restaurants, taking pictures to host on social media, and sharing them. We had anywhere from 5-6 people going out and doing that for us. So that started out pretty well for about two weeks. But then the surge [of cases] happened, so we had to cut back. We didn't want to take a risk of getting people infected. So, we really relied on the media, newspapers, social media to help us get the word out. I think the capstone for us was getting on FOX29, which really helped us get the word out and the response from that interview was tremendous.
Can you talk about what you really hoped the event conveyed to the public?
One of the great things about this is that we had someone on the committee who owned a restaurant, so we had direct experience. One of the points he made was that ‘you have to sell the cuisine across three areas: taste, culture, and value’. That last part was really important to me. People can understand taste, and the culture is apparent, although you can always do a better job at marketing that. But the value is big. To be able to purchase a platter for $12-13 dollars but see that what you’re getting at that price is a meal you can enjoy for two days is great. So really driving home that value proposition of what you get for your money, especially for those on a budget, was important.
Do you see Taste the Islands Philly becoming an annual event?
We got great responses from many of the restaurants that took part in the event and who thanked us for helping to launch it. But to be honest, this was in response to the pandemic and the effect it was having on those businesses. Several people have said, ‘you know, it would be great if this was an annual event,’ but keep in mind that there already is a Caribbean Restaurant Week [as part of Black Restaurant Week in October]. So, while I don’t think it's something we’re planning now, it’s to be determined and certainly up for discussions in the conversations we have with many community organizations that came together to help us put on this event. I would like to express my gratitude to the Caribbean Festival and Cultural Committee, Young Caribbean Professional Network, Team Jamaica Bickle Philadelphia, Jamaica Trade Council, and Jamaicans United. I think having events like this reminds people of the culture and the history of a nation like Jamaica, and that I am always here to promote.