Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
CHRISTIANA, Manchester:TWO YEARS ago when Rainforest Seafood opened an outlet along Main Street in Christiana, Manchester, it was catering to the needs of people who were forced to travel far distances to buy or enjoy seafood. Today, the original venue doubles as a seafood joint and outlet.
The idea of combining a restaurant and retail business was sparked when the operators realised they had a great deal of unused space. They looked around for a way to utilise the additional room, and the transformation has been phenomenal! What started as an experiment has developed into a concept the company will seek to patent and duplicate across the Jamaica, and eventually, the region.
The Fish Pot Fry Fish Shop is the only seafood restaurant with fast-food items on the menu. And don't be fooled by the name; they offer "anything that's in the sea". And if you like what you eat and want to try the recipe at home, just step across the room and buy the main ingredients at the seafood outlet.
High operating standards
The place was surprisingly free of the anticipated rawness associated with such an enterprise. Corporate chef Evrol Ebanks explained that this is consistent with the high operating standards common to the Rainforest Seafood chain and its subsidiaries.
In fact, he was proud of this achievement and quick to brag: "It has to do with how we sanitise the place, the way our products are packaged, and our adherence to health and other safety issues. We are fully HACCP compliant, so you do the right thing, and you get good results. We are excellent in that area and are known as the cleanest restaurant in Manchester."
The Fish Pot is also working to reduce its use of styrofoam packaging and has developed its own branded biodegradable lunch boxes and bags as it makes a concerted effort to reduce its carbon footprint.
Fried seafood options - shrimp, fish, fish and chips, steamed fish - are the mainstay of the menu, but Ebanks and his team are always experimenting with a slew of specials in order to keep customers happy.
Manager Chaldean Howard explains: "We used to do a foil-roasted fish, but we no longer carry it. Customers were not really hooked on it, but steamed fish is popular. They will let you know how a particular item is doing and what they want. They will ask you for a particular item, which you run for a week and see it how it does. So the customers' needs will always impact our business."
Whatever the reasons for its growing popularity, Ebanks is satisfied they are on to a winning formula.
"Fish Pot has never been advertised. Most of our business is pretty much word of mouth. The reason is that it's a developing concept, so we haven't channelled too much energy into putting the word out there yet. That will happen when we have perfected the concept somewhat, and then be able to take it all over Jamaica."
Still, there is room for much more growth in business, especially with the large number of returning residents who make Manchester their home. Fish Pot offers a welcome change from the usual fast-food chains to which they are accustomed. The corporate chef is banking on their ongoing support to add to the strong local following.
"A lot of foreigners come through here, so it is imperative that we have a very good quality product that is comparable to everywhere else," said Ebanks. Our concept is unique, to begin with, and we have competitively priced, good, quality food. Based on the suggestion box, so far, we have been doing a pretty good job."