Jeffery Simon is serving residents of Tottenham, England, true Caribbean cuisine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trinidadian, who now lives in the North London borough of Haringey, is operating a food bank from his restaurant Uptown Cuisine.
The charity is called Impact Cuisine and for three days in the week the less fortunate can receive delicious Caribbean meals for free. There is no short-changing in quality or taste. Everyone, whether they receive a free meal, or if they purchase it themselves, will be treated equally. This is because Simon says it is an investment in the community.
Impact Cuisine serves food from 3 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. When Guardian Media interviewed Simon, they were preparing a curry goat meal for their clients. Other days, ackee and saltfish is on the menu. Simon said all customers, paying or otherwise, receive food cooked with a “good heart and good intention.”
“I am always a community person from Trinidad,” Simon said.
As a young man growing up along the Santa Cruz Old Road, Simon said he organised community cricket matches and sports days for Mother’s Day and during Easter. He is also a member of Pamberi Steel Orchestra.
“So for me, when I came to this country I’m coming from a community background, so it wasn’t difficult to adapt,” he said.
When he opened his restaurant four years ago, Simon admitted he was met with a bit of resistance. He said his first year saw him having to prove to local gangsters that he would not be intimidated. To do that, he fell back on what he knew and would host talent competitions at the restaurant. It was his way of letting his new neighbours know that he was committed to doing what he could to contribute positively to the area.
When London went into a lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19 and non-essential businesses were closed, he joined a volunteer effort to feed the needy. They catered to 400 people. He said the experience stayed with him and when he was allowed to reopen his restaurant, he decided to introduce a community feeding programme to it.
And are those same bad boys who had treated him with hostility when he first opened years ago still calling him “big man” as a form of intimidatory tactics? Simon said they eventually came around because they had family members who were receiving meals from Uptown Cuisine’s food bank.
“So it’s not ‘big man’ again, it’s Uncle,” he said proudly.
Earlier this month, Simon’s Impact Cuisine was featured on the BBC. While its operations are supported by Simon’s restaurant business, it also depends on the work of volunteers, some of whom turn to the bank for some of their meals. There are still out of pocket costs for ingredients, food containers and toiletries. An account was set up on the UK-based: crownfunder.co.uk website to help them raise the equivalent of $44,000 dollars to support their work. Supporters can also follow the work of Impact via their Facebook page Impact Cuisine Haringey and their Instagram account Impact Cuisine UK.