How Karis Theophane won £10,000 to open her new restaurant Jerk Grill

06 March 2024 by
How Karis Theophane won £10,000 to open her new restaurant Jerk Grill

The founder of Jerk Grill tells Jungmin Seo how she's gone from cooking jerk chicken in her mum's kitchen to opening a brand new London site

How did you start Jerk Grill?

Prior to Jerk Grill, my background was in helping children and young people. I set up my own organisation in 2016 to teach young girls confidence and resilience, but the people I worked with were struggling with the basics of being able to get a job, so I decided to launch Jerk Grill as a trading arm to support our work.

I invested my savings into a food truck and did loads of events in Peckham, paying young people to work for me over the summer. I was actually cooking the food at my mum's house, using her kitchen. I sold out on the first day in three hours, and I stayed in Peckham for two and a half years.

What sparked the move to Pembury Community Centre in London's Hackney at the end of 2019?

I was outgrowing the space at Peckham, and a friend said there is a community centre in Hackney with a kitchen that was looking for a business to take it over. So I went there for a three-month pop-up and that turned into a three-year lease, which I took in February 2020. I decided to work the whole way through the pandemic, so I did takeaway and meal programmes for vulnerable residents. I guess Covid was a blessing, because it enabled me to build my presence. Jerk Grill was the only place open for a mile. Just me, the Post Office and the Co-op.

You ended up closing Jerk Grill in Hackney in December 2022, two months before the lease came to an end. Where did you go from there?

I found the current site in Lower Clapton Road. In fact, I had completed on the property for a long lease in May 2023, but then I had issues with finance, so had to start from scratch. All my personal savings went into securing the lease, and charity Trust for London helped with the renovation budget. Before that, I'd been rejected by about 30 other social investors. Trust for London was still willing to have conversations and to put in applications for investment, and then I saw the Uber Black Business Fund advert for £10,000.

Congratulations on winning your grant earlier this year. What else does it pay for?

It's gone towards marketing, staff uniforms and staff training. I've employed two young people and the fund will enable me to cover the first month of their wages. We're hoping to open the new Jerk Grill on the week of 11 March. To start, I'm going to be operating four days a week and staying open until 10pm or 11pm.

You mentioned you are vegetarian but you have learned to cook meat because they form part of your bestselling dishes. What was that like?

I haven't eaten meat for over 10 years. I cook meat and vegetarian options, but jerk chicken is the favourite. When I started, the chef was my father-in-law. When I talked to him about moving the kitchen to Hackney, he said to me he's "not going Hackney, it's too far", so I spent a week at home and he taught me all the recipes.

I think it's a bit different for me because I've realised I'm not a chef – my passion is children and young people. I had this product and everybody wanted it, so it was just a matter of learning to cook it and being able to keep it going.

You've been through a lot to get to where you are now. Was there a point when you were close to giving up? What kept you motivated?

At each point when I felt it was time to give up or close, people reminded me why they needed me, and that's kind of what kept me going. At Hackney we'd have 50 students come over every lunchtime from BSix College or Mossbourne Academy. It's been a great journey because we've met so many people in such a great community. It's more than just the food.

What tips do you have for people who are overcoming challenges in the restaurant trade at the moment?

In anything you do, you've just got to keep going, because you never know when your tipping point is. As much as I enjoy certain elements of it, I've had a year of anxiety trying to find this site, because if I don't make the funds, there's no one else who will. All it took was for just one person to say yes. Most importantly, you've got to be willing to invest in yourself. I was determined that I wasn't going to let cash be the reason why the business ceased to exist. I was still out there with my jerk pan and chicken, so I think more than anything, having gone through Covid and the lease issues and come out the other side, it was testament that I can go through anything. Slow and steady wins the race.

Continue reading

You need to create an account to read this article. It's free and only requires a few basic details.

Already subscribed?

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking