Over the past seven years, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen has become a Twin Cities fixture for Jamaican cuisine with locations on both sides of the river. This includes its flagship Minneapolis’ Eat Street location, as well as a new restaurant that just opened in St. Paul this past weekend.
Armed with a $100 tent, his grandmother’s recipes, and a grill from his backyard, Tomme Beevas got his start in 2012. “We brought [the grill] to the Bryn Mawr garage sale without a clue as to what would happen.”
He served food for free in exchange for customer feedback and social media sign-ups. “From there, we tweaked the menu and built a grassroots network.”
The next year, Beevas won a Food Network reality show that included free restaurant operations for a year at the Burnsville Center. “That’s how we ended up getting our own restaurant,” he said. “Eventually, we were able to open up our Eat Street location and at the TCF Bank Stadium, have our food truck, our rum bar, and our backyard bar. Now we’re pleased to be on the other side of the river in Saint Paul at the Keg and Case Market.”
The MSR sat down with Beevas to learn more about his journey from backyard griller to restaurant boss.
MSR: What inspired you to get into the food business?
Tomme Beevas: The inspiration comes from me being able to share my grandma Baby Lue’s recipes with my neighbors and newly adopted community in Minnesota. Every day, I’d come home from my corporate job tired, stressed out, and I’d fire up the grill to relax. The neighbors would be there every single day. Then one day we were, like, “Let’s test out this concept and see how it goes.”
MSR: What is your main product?
TB: Jerk chicken is our top seller.
MSR: How did you choose the new location in Saint Paul?
TB: Pimento strives to be the global premier provider of Jamaican food experiences. We knew that in order to do that we had to expand beyond Minneapolis. When Keg and Case Market approached us, it made perfect sense because it was an area that was already bringing together the community and other like-minded businesses.
MSR: What’s your vision and goal for where you want to take your business?
TB: After we figure out the Minneapolis and Saint Paul area, then we figure out how do we best take it nationally. Is it a franchise model? Is it owning all of them? Is it taking on other investors?
We do know that we have the opportunity and that we have investors from around the country and, in fact, around the world who have expressed interest. We want to be able to build it smart and grow wisely.
MSR: How does your business impact the community?
TB: Our business impacts the community first and foremost by providing authentic Jamaican culture to those who either don’t know or those who are avid fans. When they come here to Pimentos, they feel safe and know that it is a space that you can come to no matter who you are and follow our mantra: “Don’t worry, eat happy.”
We oﬀer a safe space for guests, we oﬀer healthy food that feeds their body, and we oﬀer a space that feeds their spirit with the Jamaican vibe.
MSR: Besides food, how else are you serving the community?
TB: One of the things that we want to make sure people are aware of this summer is a Jama Market. It’s a principle for collective economics. We’re providing a space in our backyard where small startups can come — like a farmer’s market — and promote their goods and services for free.
Our guests can come, learn about these businesses, and invest in them as well. Whether it’s you selling your perfumes or you selling your art, we want to make the space available for startup entrepreneurs to be able to use the safe space for Pimento to help start their businesses.
MSR: What’s your biggest challenge so far in owning a business?
TB: The biggest challenge so far, without a doubt, has to be access to capital. As a restaurant, let alone as a Black-owned restaurant, access to capital is very limited. Thankfully, we’ve been able to do it very slowly and intentionally. We’ve been able to grow using what little funds we could find. Thanks to groups like MCCD [Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers], MEDA [Metropolitan Economic Development Association], and Sunrise Bank, we’ve been able to get the seed funding to continue to grow.
MSR: Financing has been a major challenge for most of the Black businesses we’ve interviewed. Do you know any Black-owned businesses that have gotten a loan through a bank outside of MCCD, MEDA or Sunrise Bank?
TB: You can quote me: “silence.” I’m literally thinking, and I cannot think of one that has not used, for lack of a better term, “charity funding” through the nonprofit organizations. No, unfortunately, and I know many Black business owners.
MSR: What’s been the most rewarding part of owning a business for you?
TB: The most rewarding part is providing opportunities for those that normally wouldn’t have them. Not just job opportunities, but well-paid job opportunities and well-paid advancement opportunities. Our approach is about taking those [needing such opportunities] from our communities and having them be a part of the ground floor of a startup that is aiming to be global.
MSR: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
TB: Take your time and do it small. That is not advice that I would have taken when I was starting, but I was forced to take it eventually. When they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” that is the truest advice in the entrepreneurial world.
At Pimento, we started oﬀ with a $100 tent and the grill from my backyard. We grew and invested $3,000 at the end of the summer into buying our first box truck to move our grill and tent around town. From that, we grew incrementally day after day after day.
The other piece of advice would be to start where you are right now and be gentle with yourself. Don’t take it personally when you’re given advice. You’ll get there one day at a time.
MSR: Is there a legacy you want to leave?
TB: I’m building from my grandmother Baby Lue’s legacy — she was a legend. She was able to become the first Black millionaire woman out of West Kingston, Jamaica. She was very community-minded, and she helped other businesses grow within that community.
I was able to watch her grow her empire. I was able to see that and use it as the inspiration to start to my own.
MSR: Are there any deals that readers can take advantage of?
TB: We have deals going on all the time. To find out about the deals, you can follow us on Facebook at Pimento Kitchen.
Pimento Jamaican Kitchen is located at 2524 Nicollet Ave. in Mpls. and at Keg and Case West 7th Market, located at 928 West Seventh Street in St. Paul.
This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.