As March rolls around once more, many of us are marking the anniversary of a contactless year. Strangely enough, thanks to COVID, people are getting back in touch with how much of their daily lives they actually control, and how to make peace with that fact.
It’s no easy task, but if you’re getting the hang of postponing and pivoting, congrats…you’re winning. And to find the truest set of troopers in these wild times, look no further than the restaurant industry.
Hardships have a way of stirring entrepreneurial spirit, and the blur of normal and surrealness currently upon us has created countless new projects.
Certain industries such as food delivery have gained leverage during the pandemic and for some, the tables have turned altogether.
Jamaican entrepreneur Kayla Blake is one of them.
She’s the owner of the justly named Tables Turn Restaurant, a takeout/delivery-only eatery in Kingston which also supplies surrounding areas. Launching just two weeks before lockdown last year, the restaurant has built up a strong following and then some from its Instagram archive alone. The new spot has entered a crowded market but is slowly staking its claim to that ever-expanding demographic: quarantined customers seeking scrumptious comfort food.
Photo Credit Tables Turn Instagram
Needless to say, Blake’s brand has been affected by these upended times, and what used to be full-scale operations is now a Thursday and Friday only gig. The service model shift to weekend operations is also due to Blake’s current enrollment as a student. It’s a workable schedule for now, and even in the midst of uncertainty. Blake has done her homework in appraising and delivering what works for her finicky customer base.
Far from average and more than ample, the meals at Tables Turn are sold as eye-catching combos. The distinguishing “mix + match” menu setup — “Beef Tacos + Corn + Wings” / “Popcorn Chicken + Waffles + Wings Tossed in Signature Sauce, Spicy Mayo, Cheese, and Honey Mustard” etc — explains their fitting slogan choice — “good food equals good mood” — and why potential customers find it hard to believe they’re a local gem.
Among its many virtues, the menu also steers clear of the clichè rice option, bulging instead with rich pasta, noodles, the tortilla medley: nachos, tacos and quesadillas, and more. Pork lovers (of which there are PLENTY in the world) will be pleased to know that BBQ Pigtails counts as a side dish.
I may not be swine-inclined but I know what I like; what I l̶i̶k̶e̶ LOVE is plantain. Blake keeps busy adding a new menu item each week and the newest addition, plantain boats, enticed my palate immediately.
A savvy CEO, Blake is always on the lookout for dishes and ideas that translate well and set her brand apart from the competition. This was something she “saw on the internet and decided to try,” having heard the ‘standard starch’ complaints from her roving clientele. Now, they’ll be able to try the tropical snack sliced and stuffed with their choice of ground beef or the Jamaican essential, saltfish (dried and salted cod).
Stuffed ripe plantains or plantain boats are found throughout Caribbean cuisine and Afro-fusion cuisine, typically prepared as minced meat or black bean vessels, topped with cheese and baked. Equal parts savory and sweet and perfect for any mealtime, these are a fancy way of enjoying what amounts to a typical Jamaican breakfast.
Open from 12 pm-5 pm on both days, Tables Turn is forging ahead with its pandemic-optimized lockdown lunches, keeping customers keen and close by literally thinking outside the box. ‘Box food’ may be the cornerstone of Jamaican takeout, but consumers in this day and age are looking for a lot more bang for their buck. For the range of options available, there are varying price points, competitive enough to keep customers coming back.
Everyone could use a reason to feel festive these days and the crave-able, customizable lunches do the trick. From the hip and healthy menu selections to the first-rate customer service, Tables Turn is serving up whimsy one funky combination at a time.
Add to that the incredible social media presence that Blake maintains. She’s been sure to catch customers where they’re most likely to be feasting their eyes and has the highlights and reviews to prove she’s worth her salt.
Don’t believe me? Take the drop-off process for instance. A quick series of messages (Whatsapp, DM’s) is all it takes to secure your order ahead of time. I was on a strict schedule (Xoom is a terrible master), and needed the order dropped off by 12 pm sharp. Done.
Not only was it on time, still warm and heavy, but the divine smell damn near lifted me all the way back to my desk.
The only doubt in my mind after trying the Saltfish Plantain Boat Combo (BBQ Wings + Side Salad) and Chicken Vegetable Spring Rolls is that I’ll be able to wait a while before ordering again. Not at all oily or overdone and practically oozing with flavour, lunch was a satisfying experience overall.
If they went overboard, it would be the plantain boat (!) and only in the best way, with its tasty contrast between the starch and saltfish medley. The perfect, pillowy spring rolls were packed with gooey goodness…and may or may not have each gone down in one bite.
What’s the next move for Tables Turn? More, of course! Blake is excited about the assorted natural juices and catering options in the works, and other novel ways of maintaining intrigue are coming right up. Delivery/takeout is a lifeline clearly working to Blake’s advantage, giving her momentum that could well outlast the current climate.
The pandemic is an exaggerated example, but we all know life’s headaches just happen to be ideal conditions for clarity. Sometimes overwhelmed is the order of the day, and the only thing you can control is a sense of self. Two tracks, in particular, stood out from my Pick-Me-Up playlist (we all have these right?) when writing this — My Fire – Tarrus Riley feat. Dexta Daps and Lovin’ Me – Kid Cudi feat. Phoebe Bridgers.
Each is a pious, dreamy soundscape on battling elements of the human condition – depression, negativity, doubt. The lyrical, echoed mantras become more relevant with each passing day. “You can’t dim my light, it burns hotter than you’ll ever know”, the dancehall vanguards chant on the guitar-led beat. Rap meets indie on the Kid Cudi cut, where mercurial vocals intone the ardent message, “I told myself I cannot grow without lovin’ me.”
Ironically, Tarrus Riley’s track is found on his latest album Healing, a concept we’re all dealing with in one way or another right now. Whether it’s facing big-bad COVID on a daily or delighting in the not-so-little things, (Blake hasn’t received a bad food review in an entire chaotic year) turning the need for control into hope is a coping mechanism for carving out more despite the times.
More on Sasha’s work:
Sasha Lee is a Jamaican writer who has too many interests, and credits in both journalism and fiction. Her work has appeared in DancehallMag.com, Ellipsis Zine, Sublunary Review and LEON Literary Review, among others. Among her creative endeavors is a monthly column entitled “The Last Bite” – where she shares a slice of paradise in food and music reviews – for MixedMag.co. She can be found on Twitter @ohsashalee.