BY ALYSSA MAHADEO
When you think of authentic Jamaican cuisine, the first thing that comes to mind is the savoury taste of spicy jerk chicken or fall of the bone oxtail with rice and peas and a side of grandma’s homemade coleslaw.
A staple in the community of Brampton for the past twenty-five years, Gems is a name recognized by many people living throughout the GTA. Whether you are looking to purchase products from the Caribbean, enjoy a plate of authentic Jamaican cuisine, or pick up some seasoned jerk chicken to host your own Jamaican certified BBQ at home Gems has been the place to fulfill all your Caribbean food service needs!
Born and raised in Jamaica Lloyd Mcdowell immigrated to Canada when he was fifteen years old. The year was 1988 and while attending school Lloyd struggled to relate to his peers. It was difficult for him to focus on his school work and he found that the other students couldn’t understand his way of learning. He was interested in pursuing a career as an electrician, but he was suspended on multiple occasions and then after switching schools was expelled on his second day. His mother told him that couldn’t stay at home, unless he went out and got a job to try and make something of himself. Lloyd never aspired to be a chef or a small business owner. Back home in Jamaica, his parents had owned a grocery store and to appease his mother at the time, Lloyd told her of his plans to open a West Indian grocery store of his own.
His mother who was working as a nurse at the time, met a woman who approached her to ask if she knew anyone who was looking to purchase a Caribbean Grocery Store. She went home to share the news with Lloyd and negotiated with him to purchase and open his own store. Lloyd purchased the store in 1991 located at 1785 Queen Street East in Brampton.
While running the grocery store, Lloyd was always experimenting in the kitchen, looking to recreate tasty jerk flavoured dishes from his homeland. On more than one occasion his customers would suggest he open a restaurant in the grocery store after sampling some of his culinary delights. It boosted his self-esteem, when people could see what he was capable of and it encouraged him to give the people what they wanted.
As soon as a space became available, Lloyd made the decision to incorporate a restaurant, with his grocery store selling Caribbean products at the storefront, and running a restaurant hustle in the back. The business was going very well for him, until some issues with his landlord had him reassessing his options. There was competition for the unit and his landlord gave him an ultimatum either he shut down the restaurant and only sell groceries or close shop completely and clear out.
The community was disappointed in the new turn of events, following and supporting Lloyd’s progress since he established his business at the age of nineteen. He was forced to close the restaurant, but he wasn’t about to give up, and three years later opened a new restaurant at Bovaird and Hwy 10 located at 20 Gillingham Drive in Brampton.
After opening his doors for the second time, the Brampton community rallied behind him and came out to support him in such a way that after just one year business was booming better than ever. Lloyd’s business was thriving and the City of Brampton was to thank for all their support sharing their love for his food and bringing people from near and far to enjoy it. It was only uphill from there and with business going so well, Lloyd made the decision to open a restaurant at another location at Bovaird and Airport currently located at 9980 Airport Road in Brampton.
Lloyd’s journey continued as he searched for even more ways to continue the growth of his business. He decided to open a meat shop where patrons could purchase meat products, which would be complimentary to his restaurant and grocery businesses.
Serving the community for just over twenty-five years, Gems is a name well known within the City of Brampton. Hard working and dedicated to the hustle, Lloyd has built a respectable name for himself through his West Indian grocery store, two restaurants and meat shop. He is very hands on in his business committing a lot of his time between the four locations which leaves little time for himself. He does his best to try and maintain a balanced lifestyle always making time for family and his kids.
Over the years the community has become a part of the Gems family. They raised him from when he was just a teenager and helped him build his business from the ground up still going strong till this day. Through the support of the community Gems Jerk has continued to flourish, “without the customers there is no business,” explains Lloyd. People have suggested that he consider taking his business to other cities, perhaps opening in places like Mississauga, Scarborough or Toronto but Lloyd is 100% committed to staying within his hometown with his family in the Brampton Community. “Everybody here knows me, they love me and support me and they respect my business,” he shares. Every year he hosts a customer appreciation BBQ in the summer and encourages the community to come out bring their friends and family to enjoy some good Jamaican comfort food.
At Gems their mission is to be recognized by their customers as the most efficient and capable provider of fine Caribbean food services. Their hard working, loyal and capable team is the backbone of the company and the key to achieving their mission. Lloyd has been in the food industry for a very long time creating many new flavours and recipes. At their restaurants, he personally creates the restaurant’s menu and adjusts it depending on the season or availability of food. The ability to be able to cook amazing dishes from scratch is a must. Cooking with passion involves cooking with hand picked ingredients from different parts of the world, that’s what sets Gems Jerk apart from the rest. At Gems Jerk Restaurant, they have put a great deal of energy into ensuring that all their guests are welcomed and treated as family. That feeling of welcome stems from Lloyd’s family’s roots. The business GEMS was named after his mother Gloria Elanie Mcdowell and they welcome each and everyone with open arms.
Gems Jerk takes pride in what they serve, the food that they make and they hope you will enjoy all their masterfully created flavours. “I don’t do this work because of the money, I do it for the people and the support they give me in return.”