From coal pot to industrial stove - Clifford Walker makes his mark in the restaurant business
Tamara Bailey, Gleaner Writer
He had no thought of entering the professional realm of cooking. He did it for fun and as part of his domestic duties when he lived with his grandmother, but the long hours labouring over a coal stove soon had the lad thinking about commercial food preparation and starting a business.
Clifford Walker, proud owner and operator of Bell Peppers, a vegetarian restaurant located at 31/2 Caledonia Road, Mandeville, made his first step into the industry when he studied at the Saunders Catering School in Kingston and became a certified chef.
His dream of owning his own business did not come to reality right after, however, and he soon applied for a job at a restaurant.
"I got a job at a vegetarian restaurant. I had never prepared vegetarian food before, but the boss said they needed someone right away, and if I can prepare meat, then I can prepare vegetarian food,"
Walker took a leap of faith, and after a crash course from the owner, was well on his way, meeting people from various backgrounds and leaving an indelible impact on his customers.
"I worked at the restaurant for 10 years, and during that time, I met so many people, and relationships developed," he said. But Walker was in for a shock.
"The business closed down ... . I had no idea what I was going to do for a while, and then I decided to go back to my business idea. That's when Bell Peppers was born."
A long road
In operation for little under two years, Walker said he has experienced significant struggles and equally, some successes.
"I remember days when we would see about 35-40 customers per day. Then the times got bad and it went down to the point where I couldn't pay all the bills and had to cut staff. I became depressed and my health was deteriorating, but it is my passion and I will never give it up."
He added: "We have some customers here that I have had for 12 years, meaning, I had them from I was at the other restaurant (where) I worked. They say this is their kitchen and they will never leave."
In a competitive market, Walker said he constantly offers specials, better customer service, and caters to and upgrades the menu to please his customer base.
"My return customers (some even from as far as Kingston) are as a result of the food we serve here - the preparation, the presentation, and the cost. We also ensure the ambiance is right, and there is something about my passion and humility that customers have expressed will always keep them coming."
Having already received accolades from the Ministry of Health for outstanding work ethics, Walker said plans were in place to make Bell Peppers the place of choice for all.