Finding success in jerk
Rodney 'Ruddy' Bent knows all too well what it's like to have no job and nowhere to live. "Don't sit down and talk about 'want a job'. Government say jobs, jobs. It's not there. You have to create your own. Find something, do something and you can achieve your goals."
Bent, 'Ruddy' as he is commonly called, operates a small business on Red Hills Road serving up mouth-watering pan chicken.
Recognising that more jobs are created at the micro and small enterprise level prompted First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union, Caribbean Broilers Group and the Social Development Commission, to collaborate to host free business development workshops across the island.
The workshops focused on teaching community residents how to fund, market, and efficiently manage their small businesses. Included in each workshop were small business owners like Ruddy and Mark Stennett, who served as motivational speakers to share testimonials of their journey to business ownership.
At age 17, Bent found his way to Kingston from Clarendon in search of a man who promised him a job at his sawmill. But when he arrived, there was no job. Too embarrassed to return home, Ruddy stayed in Kingston.
"I don't have a father. A when me a 40-year-old mi know my mother. The way how mi grow, me sleep unda tree. The insect dem a night time dem no bodda trouble me again because me just say dem nah bite me, because me no have nowhere to live," an emotional Ruddy told the Kingston and St Andrew South community residents.
He identified the mango tree near the Grants Pen clinic as the place he used to call home. "Night top a night mi sleep under it. Me house was that mango tree," he said shaking his head as he reminisced. "And mi never get miself in any wrongdoing."
From there, Ruddy worked in construction before becoming a bus conductor. "Me go training school, boasy, have on me conductor ID pin pon mi shirt, but the money couldn't stretch. It never really a work out," he said. In 1982, still struggling, Ruddy decided to try the pan chicken business, having seen the success of others. "Mi start wid two chickens. Mi get a drum and get a welder build it for mi. I never even have money to pay him. I paid him in chicken," Ruddy said. "All the work mi a do, it never pay off til mi start jerk chicken."
Fast forward 30 years and a Caribbean Broilers Pan Chicken Championship later and Ruddy is one of the most famous pan chicken vendors in Kingston. "Mi now can cook over 100 quarters per night, school my kids dem from high school, to college to New York. Then I extend my business to another one - mi start to sell ground provision, yam and banana and all those things." Ruddy told the audience he has purchased a car to operate a taxi, built his own home, and is now assisting a niece in medical school as well as other family members. All with the proceeds from his pan chicken business. He said the popularity he gained from entering the CB Pan Chicken Championships, in which he placed second in 2012's Eastern regional, led to a listing in Redbook and numerous catering opportunities.
"It hasn't all been easy. You know business has its ups and downs, you have to look out for that. You go out, it rains and you don't sell. Don't give up, keep the fight. You have to fight for what you want in life. Never stop fighting," Ruddy encouraged. The community residents, obviously moved by Ruddy's presentation, gave a standing ovation as he exited the stage.
"This is what it's all about," declared Alicia Bogues, CB Pan Chicken and Bad Dawg Sausages brand manager. "These workshops are not simply to empower the residents with the necessary tools to develop businesses, but to inspire them as well. You can make it; you can succeed if you work hard at it."
Speaking at the Kingston and St Andrew North workshop, Mark Stennett told community residents he has been shot, robbed and cheated. "Police all make mi haffi run from mi jerk pan inna middle road. It rough, but mi can send mi yutes go a school, give them lunch money an no haffi beg nobody, gi dem a buss me never get," he said.
Operating his business in Half-Way Tree for more than 20 years, the soft-spoken Stennett said he became his own boss after the person who hired him to jerk paid him a counterfeit note he had collected while selling. Now, he hires persons to work for him. Also a winner in the 2010 and 2012 CB Pan Chicken Championship Eastern regionals, Stennett described the business journey as rough but good. "Mi a come from nuttin inna de ghetto. Nuff a mi fren dem dead off. Mi used to sell bottle. To see what mi come from, til somebody can see mi on the street and say, 'See the number-one pan chicken man inna town' and recommend mi, it feel good."
Stennett encouraged the community residents: "Do something for yourself more than work for people. Try something."