Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Sandra Hinds-Grant - The Epitome of Persistence and Resilience

Published:Monday | October 17, 2016 | 10:01 AM
Sandra Hinds-Grant (centre) flanked by two of her employees Cathy Morgan (left) and Marsha McKenzie.
The hard working members of staff of China Delite.
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Mandeville, Manchester

At just 9 years old, Sandra Hinds-Grant began preparing and selling food so she would have enough money to go to school, and purchase basic items for herself.

Through much hardships, and even abuse at the hands of those she loved, she triumphed, and today owns two very successful restaurants.

"I am originally from Three Miles in Kingston, but I left Jamaica when I was 11 years old after my mother filed for me," she told Flair. She continued, "But before leaving, when I was around nine, I sold food in little cardboard boxes on the weekend when they had dances in the area we (my sister and I) used to do curried chicken back and brown stewed chicken back with white rice with a little tomato and lettuce on the side."

Using the little pocket money she received from her grandmother to buy the items for the meals, and the experience she received from being in a family of cooks, Hinds-Grant made it work.

"I was born across from Metal Box, a bar and restaurant owned by my grandfather. My mother also had a bar and restaurant too, so it was in the family. Cooking was a big thing in the family."

But it was not only the passion that saw her taking on this work at such a young age, it was desperation.

"Those were some tough times for me. My mother was in the United States, and my sister had gone up and I was alone. I stayed with a friend of the family because my mother didn't want to leave us with family, so my sister and I stayed with this lady. After my sister left, she started mistreating me, sending me to school without lunch money and I loved food. I later decided to start hustling, because it was in me. I even made candy out of molasses and sold it at school for two pence," recalled Hinds-Grant.

Hinds-Grant said she has was always taught the value of hard work and will continue to carry on the legacy of her late grandmother.

"I eventually went to live with my grandmother and while there, she got me a job washing dishes and cleaning up in the canteen at a police station on Saturdays."

She continued, "when my filing came through, I went away and, over time, I worked hard in several restaurants. While in high school, I worked at Taco Bell and McDonalds among others. But they had a skills centre and during the morning, I would go to school and then in the evening, I would go to the skills centre."

But over time, this budding entrepreneur forayed into other areas including the performing Arts and Tourism. "In college, I majored in dance and theatre, but I got married young and had my first child in my early 20s. I returned to school, and this time I did airline and tourism and later worked in sales and marketing for an airline automation company for 10 years."

The pressure became real when Hinds-Grant had to work two jobs while in school pursuing her degrees and taking care of her son, as her marriage was on the rocks.

"I eventually completed my degree in airline and tourism, and then I remarried and had two sons. My husband wanted to return to Jamaica, and so after 30 years of being away, I returned with him"

Back Home

However, when Hinds-Grant's husband decided he had had enough of Jamaica, she decided to remain.

"I had prepared physically and mentally for the move. I didn't see it necessary for me to return, and though it took me a long time to adjust to the slowness of things here, I eventually opened quite a number of restaurants in Junction, Santa Cruz and Elethe Mall in Mandeville but those were closed."

It was no easy feat for her to manage a business after having experiencing those early failures, but Hinds-Grant did her research and later opened the China Delite restaurant in Mandeville more than 20 years ago.

"At the time, there were no fast food Chinese restaurants in the town - only fine dining and I decided to make something available for the middle class. I was the second restaurant on the plaza along with Burger King, and it took a lot of marketing to promote the plaza and the restaurant. I did fashion shows, I had dancers come in and I even did samplings."

As things progressed, Hinds-Grant experienced more failures but she never gave up.

"We started out with six workers - three in the front and three in the back, and we all chipped in to do everything. I cashed and served as well, but I remember over a 12-month period my cashier stole $200,000 dollars, and I kept having meat spoilage because of the freezer, so I eventually had to invest in a cold room that cost me a whole lot, but it was worth it."

She added, "Everything eventually worked out and I must give credit to all the good people I had around me."

Now with a menu of only Jamaican dishes, having changed from Chinese cuisine, China Delite's customer base has grown exponentially since the opening of their second restaurant at City Centre in Mandeville.

"It was my dream to have a second restaurant for exclusive dining, and I am happy with the progress to date. The second restaurant is just three years old and it has been doing extremely well amid the challenges."

Hinds-Grant explained that she is motivated by the feedback from her customers.

"I love what I do. I love making people smile after a good meal, and I just hope the restaurant continues to grow consistently. You may not get it right all the time, but we are willing to work to make it right."

She revealed that though her son is anxious for her to secure a location in Kingston, but she is interested in the cannabis industry particularly in making special treats from the plant.