Story by Baillor Jalloh.
Try Martins: The Afro-Caribbean food expert.
“We learn very quickly and it clicks so fast, because we depend on this business and our wages comes from it.”
Born to a working class white family in Grimes-Thorpe Road, Sheffield, Martin Cardwell, pictured above is very popular in the Afro-Caribbean communities for being the white man who knows the names of various African foods in different African languages.
His shop “Martin’s good to go,” opened six years ago and it is the biggest Afro-Caribbean food store in Sheffield.
He sells all sorts of Afro-Caribbean foods such as fresh vegetables like Cassavas, Plantain, Yams, to frozen Callaloo leaves and Potato leaves, dry-gari, Palm-oil and palm butter.
The 37-years-old says “My journey began 21 years ago when I left school at the age of 16, with no qualification and no job.“ He rented six-seven allotments and started growing curries and calla-loo vegetables then sell it to the Asians and West Indian communities.
“I learnt the skills from my father’s Jamaican neighbour who also had allotments growing different types of vegetables.“ He explains with a smile on his face while sat on a small stool that is used to stand on and fill the shelves with stocks.
As he acquired many customers who were buying his curries and calla-loo Mr Cardwell bought a Van and started driving around to sell fruits and vegetables from one place to another.
Since then life began to get better and better for the determined entrepreneur. However, in recent years when he noticed the huge influx of African-immigrants in the country, “I decided to diversify the market,” by opening up “Martin’s good to go shop.
“It was hard at the beginning because cash flow caused a lot of problems and as a small business nobody is willing to help or back you up. “You have to have money behind you to cover the plunge.“ He recalls some of the difficulties he faced when he first opened the shop.
Over the last six years the market has changed rapidly in the entire country. The African Market has grown so fast and most of his customers are now Africans and he has also moved along with the changes. Most of his stocks are now predominantly from Africa.
In the early stages of switching to the African market, he was faced with various difficulties, “Caribbean’s no matter which country they are from they eat the same food but Africans of different nationalities eat different food,“ explains Mr Cardwell.
He says, “I struggled with the names, most of the African foods don’t have names in English,“ so he had to learn by their original names in various African languages by telling customers to write it down in their own language until he memorised most of them.
He expresses the value of being a quick learner by saying “We learn very quickly and it clicks so fast, because we depend on this business and our wages comes from it.”
As his memory continue to be clicking so fast, the Martin name has become an African brand in Sheffield. He knows the various types of food and names that most Africans eat at home. He currently employs four people and gets his supply from all the major whole sale companies in London, such as Jumbo limited, KTC and Edibles.
Although, there are now other African shops owned by Africans which now competes with him, he is very relaxed about them. He says “competition is a good health for business, the world is there for everybody.”