‘I was forgetting my roots and had to do something to keep them alive,” said Andrea Reti, owner of the recently opened Pickapeppa restaurant.
Twenty years of living away from Jamaica was enough time for Reti to feel like she needed to recreate her island home in Whitehorse.
So she opened a restaurant where she could share the food she grew up on with others.
“I wanted a small space, something that you would see in Jamaica,” said the charismatic Reti.
Eat at the restaurant and you’ll get the sense that you’re dining in a beach hut by the ocean: there are brightly coloured orange and green walls, blue-painted wood floors, hand-carved sculptures and small palm plants growing in every corner.
The restaurant, named after the famed Jamaican hot sauce, popped up on Fourth Avenue last month.
Before then, Reti was slinging her rotis and curries at the small kitchen in Shipyards Park. She would have stayed there, slowly building up business, but she was convinced by Jonathan Peterson, co-owner of Real Food, to open her own place.
“Shipyards was a tricky place, people didn’t even know there was a kitchen there,” said Reti who started cooking there in September.
The increased visibility has clearly been a boon for Reti; the restaurant, open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, has already seen many customers crowding into her small space.
“I can’t complain. At lunch time our tables are full and dinner is full too,” said Reti.
Ever since she was in high school, opening a restaurant has been a dream for her.
“Not doing something to work on that dream was driving me nuts,” she said.
Managing Baked cafe and the late Bakurai gave her the experience and motivation to open up her own place.
Having the “built-in help” of her husband and nine children was also a perk, she said.
“My kids come help me in the dish pit. At first they didn’t want to, but then they caught on that when they help me out in the pit they get tips,” she said with a laugh.
Her husband, originally from Chile, inspired the Spanish flare found in some of her dishes.
However, with an ever-changing menu, it’s not guaranteed that when you walk into the restaurant you’ll get a Caribbean-Spanish fusion.
A chalkboard hanging on one side of the room highlights the 10 to 12 dishes offered that day. Some new selections are always mixed in with some standard Jamaican dishes like roti and curry.
The system keeps things interesting, said Reti.
“Most of the meals are ones my mother would have cooked when I was growing up,” she said.
Jerk chicken, goat curry, Jamaican patties, roti, ginger pork and coconut chicken with curried rice are just a sampling of the dishes at Pickapeppa.
To wash down all the spiced food, Reti bakes up sweet potato pie and banana and coconut cream pies daily.
“Sweet potato pie is a biggie back home,” said Reti.
When produce is available, and when she’s feeling particularly festive, she’ll serve up oxtail stew or plantain chips, Jamaican favourites that Reti says may take a little while for northerners to get accustomed to.
“The first week I opened I served oxtail stew, but people had no idea what it was,” she said.
Until January, Peterson, who is helping Reti get her business running, will be in the kitchen cooking the meals. After that it’s all Reti.
That’s when she says she’ll be experimenting with more Spanish-themed food.
Many of the ingredients are organic, right down to the lemons that Reti squeezes into her homemade lemonade. It’s the influence of Peterson who uses 100 per cent organic ingredients in the dishes at Real Food.
Peterson and his business partner Matthias Lexow are in the midst of renovating the space next to Pickapeppa into a chic lounge that will serve drinks and food in the evening after the restaurant closes.
“It will definitely have more of a Vancouver feel than a Whitehorse feel,” said Reti.
The support from Peterson and Lexow has been crucial to Reti.
“It’s scary getting into the business world,” she said. “You’re really, really taking a chance.”
For now, she’ll be taking one day at a time even with the pinch of the economy threatening to stem business.
“You can’t just sit around and listen to bad news. You got to get out there and do something.”
Pickapeppa Restaurant is located at 4121 Fourth Avenue and is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Contact Vivian Belik at