Real peanuts, cinnamon leaves, freshly grated nutmeg, vanilla, just-squeezed coconut milk and cream of wheat to thicken. That’s all that goes into Roy Brown’s lip-smacking peanut porridge. Oh, and a dollop of his secret ingredient — the joy of feeding others.
By 6:00 am very weekday Mr Brown, as his loyal customers affectionately address him, sets up his hand cart — painted yellow and green with a splash of red — near the pedestrian crossing in Brown’s Town, St Ann.
“Flour is a thing that will puff your belly… it make you constipated… so we use natural things. I don’t use milk either, I use natural coconut,” he tells LetsTravelCaribbean.com.
“It tek time to learn… I remember when me just started it fulla lump… You have to mix it out… stir it and do it on time or it will lump on you,” he says of his technique to get the stomach-warming mixture just right.
When lunch time rolls around, in between shouts of “soupy” to alert customers that he’s ready to receive them, he serves up an aromatic red peas soup with chicken foot. It’s also made from all natural ingredients and he goes easy on the salt.
“For the soup I don’t use anything that’s not natural… always use likkle bit of salt,” he says.
For the last 18 years Brown has been warming the stomachs of commuters with copious cups of soup and porridge, providing wholesome meals, packed with health benefits, suitable to have while on the go. When he began in 2003, it was just a way to satisfy the innate need of providing for his family. But as the years went by the self-made entrepreneur realised that his satisfaction grew with each pour of soup and peanut porridge in his customers’ cups.
Most of his customers have been students, hotel workers and vendors who purchase a comforting cup of either or both of his specialties to complement their day.
“Firstly, I started with porridge as I saw the opportunity with the kids in Brown’s Town who do not have breakfast in the mornings. Then they bring their parents and family to me. About six years later everyone was telling me that they love the porridge and that I should do something else,” says the 50 year old.
“I wanted to do something that the people could afford because everyone was selling food and it cost a lot, so I did something cheap,” he says of his decision to add red peas soup to his menu.
His business, like many others, has taken a hit because of the pandemic. With students no longer attending physical classes he’s lost a big chunk of his clients. Unfazed, he keeps fuelling his need to cook for others, even stretching has already thin resources to help those in need. There’s nothing, he says, quite like the joy he gets from feeding others — especially the mentally ill.
“It breaks my heart seeing that they do not have any resources or anyone that can help them. God has really blessed me so I can help them. I really enjoy watching them drink the porridge in the morning and the hot soup in the evening. At least they can get something warm in their stomach that can keep them a little,” Brown says.
He knows what it’s like to struggle.
He started out selling porridge in Montego Bay after his contract as a maintenance worker at the Port of Authority ended. From there, he relocated to St Ann where he was closer to his family, to operate a small business from a food cart. Though he’s become popular in Brown’s Town over the last decade, it was a hard-fought battle.
“When I first started it was rough as no one knew me. I used to live in Lilliput in Montego Bay. When I came here, I thought it would be the same [as it was there] and I could cook a pot of porridge and sell-off; but it wasn’t like that. I cooked a pot of porridge and mek $300 and sometimes $600. In Montego Bay I used to make thousands,” he says.
Luckily those days are behind him. Anyone hoping for a cup of his morning porridge or afternoon soup has to get to him within two hours after he begins selling. That’s how quickly they sell.
The father of five has been financing his children’s education from the earnings made from his modest hand cart.
“I sent one to SIGMA nursing school… She’s a nurse now. The other three are 14, 16, and six,” Brown says.
The businessman notes that he continues to survive by maintaining his entrepreneurial spirit and exercising his faith in God. “It’s just God’s blessing and I continue to have faith in him. I love my job because everyone out here is full of love… even the police officers… They ensure they look to see if I’m fine when they pass through,” Brown says.
Text & Photos: Donicka Robinson