It couldn’t have been a better day to meet the founders of Island Social Club, specialising in rum and Caribbean food, who have just opened up a Rotishop at Styx bar. We sat out in the blazing hot sunshine, had a good old laugh, daydreamed about rum and Caribbean food and discussed some of the challenges they’ve faced setting up their own business. Joe, Biko and Marie have begun an all inclusive initiative where they are learning about their West Indian heritage along with showing others that Caribbean food goes far beyond the well known jerk chicken, rice and peas. With a weekly updated menu, you can try a whole range of Caribbean food served alongside a rum punch or two.
Marie: ‘It’s a huge celebration of all islands and it’s actually our discovery and exploration of that.’ Born in London, Marie and Biko have Jamaican parents and Joseph’s Dad is Grenadian.
Biko: ‘It’s funny because as much as we are producing we’re still learning a lot about the Caribbean from the research that we’re doing. We’re always researching, we’re always looking for new recipes and we’re coming up with things.’
Marie: ‘It’s amazing how much information about the Caribbean that I just wasn’t aware of. It’s a really fun way in which to learn about where you come from.’
On the current menu there is Arawak mutton and roti which is from a Jamaican recipe (a roti is a type of flat bread that was originally bought to the islands from South Asia); an Italist stew, which is a vegan stew inspired by the Rastafarian idea of only eating vegetables from the ground; market fritters and Cassava fries amongst other things. Their Cassava fries are rumoured to be better than normal chips!
Marie says their regularly changing menu is a good way to keep them on their toes and make sure they stay fresh. ‘It doesn’t mean that stuff won’t come back but it’s just about exploring, tapping into that and showcasing what we can do.’
Just as important as the food, they have an array of rum punches which they hand pick depending on the type of the event. Biko: ‘We’ve got the Maboat which is a fragrant rum punch from Grenada: it’s got orange juice, lime juice, rum imported from the Caribbean, with a spiced sugar syrup – all the way to a watermelon and pomegranate punch.’ They’ve even created a smooth avocado punch which helps to cool the mouth after a spicy menu.
The trio met about a year ago and all chip in with a bit of everything but the roles naturally settle into Joe the creative, Marie the foodie and Biko on operations. Marie: ‘I was running a supper club pop up and I saw that Joe and Biko were running a rum pop up. If anyone starts to like me or look at anything on my Instagram, I’d be like, ‘who are they?’, I saw that they’d liked a picture, had a little search and looked on their Facebook and thought, ‘these guys seem cool’, so we made contact.’
‘I went down to their pop up and we got on really well and had an idea of collaborating. We did a carnival special where we did a curated rum punch menu alongside a three course meal and that was our first avenue of working together.’
Biko: ‘It went really well. We got a lot of positive feedback from the people that attended so we decided to take it further and see how we could do that full time and what avenues we could go down.’
After their first collaboration at the supper club, at Palm 2 in Clapton, two opportunities came up at the same time. The team were offered a four month residency at the Green Rooms hotel in Wood Green, Pop’s Kitchen, which has just finished, along with the space at Styx bar in Tottenham. Marie: ‘We decided that I’d front that one and Joe and Biko would start this one here (at Styx). Island Social Club just naturally started to formulate’.
Island Social Club got the agreement with Styx in February and they started building the hut themselves with the help of a carpenter (or as Marie called him Super Freddie!). Biko: ‘Myself, Joseph and Marie were here all painting, nailing, doing much as we could.’ Marie: ‘Mostly getting paint on ourselves!’ They opened at Styx at the beginning of April with a taster menu. They hope to be at Styx for as long as the venue is open (Styx only have the site until late 2018 due to redevelopment plans for Ashley Road) and there is potential for them to move into the kitchen in the back of the venue in the future.
Before meeting Marie, Biko and Joseph ran a pop up rum bar for about a year. Biko: ‘We started an event to celebrate all the different things, the food, the rum and from that we decided to open Rumshop.’
The Pop’s Kitchen residency at the Green Rooms hotel was a big learning curve for the team. Marie: ‘It’s quite a lot running your own restaurant and I’d never even worked in a restaurant before. I learnt a lot but it was actually amazing in terms of how quickly you can adapt and what you can do with that and go with it. I noticed, I did a supper club towards the end of it, that my organisational skills have gone to a new level which was great.’
Marie: ‘The dream is to eventually have a space of our own that encompasses what Island Social Club is. A space that caters to food, music and events that’s a celebration of all islands – which is the tag line of who we are. And to then have curated event schedules that really celebrate Caribbean culture.’
Biko: ‘Somewhere that’s inclusive to everybody. That’s our thing. We want Caribbean culture to be as open as it can and for everybody, regardless of your background or where you’re from, wherever, to engage.’
The team saw an opportunity in Tottenham and decided to build and grow their business there. Biko: ‘There’s a lot of other people at the other business park or warehouses, opening cafes and all types of stuff, so it’s good to just grow together. Grow the community together.’
Marie: ‘I think it definitely is about engaging with the people that actually do live here and have for a very long time and making them feel included in whatever is changing. Not about people being pushed out. It’s about people being united.’
Biko: ‘It’s about making Tottenham grow in itself, but then grow with the people that are there already so that they get to enjoy the fruits of all the good stuff that’s going on – the amount of work that they’ve put into the community as well.’
Marie and Biko explained that the biggest challenge they’ve faced with the project so far was actually setting up their own business. Marie: ‘When you first start a business it’s really exciting, it’s fun, it’s fresh, and then suddenly reality hits, how hard it can be. Alongside that the rewards are so much bigger because when you have that first really busy day or you complete it and then people come by and you start to get noticed it’s really exciting.’
Biko: ‘I’d agree. Your energies are so high at the start and then what you have to do is just maintain that energy and that’s the hardest part. ‘Cause the days are long you don’t get to see people because of the amount of effort that you have to put in but at the end of the day you’re doing it for a good reason. The hardest part is maintaining the energy but once you can do that, and you’ve got good people around you, I’ve got Joseph and Marie and they’ve got me, then it makes it a little bit easier.’
Marie: ‘Everything is a very rapid learning curve… you have the idea of something and a concept or whatever but you forget that actually there’s lots of other stuff going on behind the scenes that are quite important. We only met a year ago…that was a challenge getting to know each other, working together and figuring out how we all work.’
Biko: ‘True, because we all have very different but strong personalities so to be able to just put that in a melting pot and get it to work, it’s been challenging but it’s also been rewarding.’
Marie: ‘We’ve built a little family unit’
It’s Marie, Biko and Joseph’s unique personalities and skills that lend themselves to their success so far. Biko: ‘We’ve all got different personalities. We’ve all got different things that we’re good at.’
Marie: ‘It kind of naturally balances doesn’t it?’
Biko: ‘Yeah it naturally balances. We’ve all got different backgrounds as well. All of our experiences have helped us along with what we’re doing now.’
Marie: ‘I think we’re all very lucky as well in that our family are so supportive. Insanely supportive. That’s where the similarities lie. They’re all just as driven in getting us to where we want to get to.’ Marie’s Dad helped as a chef at Pop’s Kitchen and in the past her mum has helped host the supper clubs. Biko: ‘You’ll see all of our family running around just helping out ‘cause that’s just how they are. They’re amazing.’
Island Social Club’s official launch for their Rotishop is on Saturday 10th April at Styx bar from 2pm. They have a number of DJs all with a brief to touch on different parts of Caribbean music. Biko: ‘It’s going to be a massive array of different island music’. There will be roti and rum punch. They have giveaways, competitions and there will be an after party until 3am. Biko: ‘It’s going to be a massive party at the end. Things will get lively and people will be on the walls.’ Marie: ‘That’s the plan!’