BHM – Bringing the Taste of the Caribbean to Cardiff & Beyond – By Charmaine Smikle Co-Founder of Earl’s Kitchen



I grew up in Cardiff in the 80s when there was not much diversity. The Black community then was quite small. At school I was used to being the only black girl in the class and with there being so few Jamaican families in the area we would all know of each other. I remember having to trek to Bristol or London just to find an Afro-Caribbean hair shop that catered for my hair type. This lack of choice also applied when it came to food – there just wasn’t any good Caribbean offerings in South Wales at all.


Fast-forward to years later, representation increased but there wasn’t anything more than the stereotypical ‘hot jerk’ street food offering. My father Earl and I had always dreamt of changing this and so we began creating more variety to welcome people to explore the diverse flavours of the Caribbean.


Cooking is a big passion for my father. He has been a chef since he was 16 and he loves to recreate his homeland Jamaican flavours and gives them a twist. As a result, people from all over the city would always ask for his Caribbean sauces and he made quite a name for himself. He always thought about selling the sauces but because of his full-time job, he simply didn’t have the time to dedicate to it.


In 2017, my father had a brain aneurysm and stroke. He had to pause everything, learn to walk again and completely rebuild his life. After recovering he couldn’t really go back to working normal cheffing hours and instead needed something that was more flexible. It was then my dad and I worked towards launching Earl’s Kitchen in late 2019, having invested £1000 from our savings we began selling homemade Caribbean sauces, seasonings and chutneys – from Rum and Peppercorn, Scotch Bonnet Chilli and Barbados Caribbean Sauce.


Getting started wasn’t easy. At the beginning of the business, I was working full-time, a carer to my mother who had mobility and communication issues after receiving a diagnosis of young onset dementia and didn’t have much money to spare. Despite there being a lot in my life at the time, I was really determined to try and create something new and realise this personal ambition of mine and my father’s.


Unfortunately, soon after setting up, Covid hit which meant we were unable to grow through traditional routes such as food fairs and weekend markets. Although this slowed sales, we decided to focus our efforts elsewhere for the community and got involved in the Feed the NHS campaign in South Wales, working with other independent food businesses to provide free meals to hospital staff during the pandemic. Also, we realised we needed to build our online presence. Luckily around that time, I came across Amazon Small Business Accelerator and found that I could access programmes that not only helped upskill me in the fundamentals of running a business, I was also able to find resources that were tailored  to my specific needs operating in the food and drinks category.


This enabled us to grow our business online and boost revenue. Amazon now accounts for a third of our sales. Amazon provided a good way to reach a lot of people quickly and it pushed our products to customers we wouldn’t have necessarily been able to reach on our own.


I’ve now reduced the hours in my day job to dedicate more time to driving the business forward. I’m proud that Earls Kitchen has gone on to win the Great Taste Awards in 2021 for our Chutney and Barbados Sauce. We’re also in a position where we are able to plan for taking our products beyond the UK and have our sights set on helping people in places such as Sweden and Spain which may not have diverse offerings to have access to our Caribbean flavours.


It has been an unreal journey and often people get in touch to ask me for guidance on starting their own food business so they can work towards building their independence, and I am more than happy to share our experiences. More than anything, having the business has empowered us to give back to the community which ultimately has been tremendously fulfilling for the life of both myself and my father.