Last year, Martin and Tamika Dunkley threw a party, expecting a few hundred people to show up and enjoy some good food and music. Thousands arrived. Thus, the annual Caribbean Carnival came to the Village of Saugerties, spreading the soulful vibe of the West Indies into the Hudson Valley.
On Sunday, August 11, the Dunkleys invite the greater community to come experience an authentic Caribbean Carnival and get a sense of what island culture is all about. The Cantine Veterans’ Memorial Complex will once again vibrate to the beat of the islands, the flash of raucous colors in clothing and décor and – best of all – the aromas and tastes being offered by more than 60 food vendors.
Live music, a deejay and dance performances throughout the afternoon guarantee that attendees will feel it in their bodies and souls. With games and festive activities for all ages – arts and craft booths, face-painting, a costume contest with a grand prize of $250 – the whole family is welcomed to “get together and feel all right” in authentic Caribbean style. And take note: The fun starts with a parade slated to move from the Frank D. Greco Community Center, head through town on Washington Avenue and end up at the Complex. Parade lineup will begin at 10 a.m., with step-off at 11. (Participants must register online.)
“I am West Indian-American myself, born in the Bronx,” says Martin. He describes how, in the City, you always have such a mix of ethnicities, with whole neighborhoods, entire boroughs celebrating their particular cultures. “I felt like this was an opportunity for our community to enjoy something here. After starting our business, Seasoned Delicious Foods, we’ve always wanted to give back to the very community that supported us. In Jamaica, you had your Sunday dinner with music, and everybody’d come over. We’d gather, decompress and start the week. I’ve learned that the best way to bring people together is with food and music. I thought it was time for us to give back to the community and bring everyone together.”
“Last year we were expecting 300 to 400 people,” says Tamika. “Ten times that came! We had only 60 days from the time we got the approval to when we put on the event. It was a wonderful turnout. What was beautiful was the sea of faces – black, brown, white, yellow; it was not one color, and was really an incredible experience.”
Seasoned Delicious Foods produces spices and seasonings, hot sauces, relishes, preserves and spreads, oils and vinegars. Two auxiliary lines of products, Afya Power Foods and Above Earth Foods, round out the culinary choices, all of which offer finely tuned flavors for the discerning cook. The Dunkleys consider their unique sauces and preserves “the natural byproduct of a life lived with a Caribbean flair.”
Martin has always been in sales, he says. “In the Bronx, my dad had an antique store, and I helped there while I was going to school. I came up here 20 years ago, went into the car business and then managed a store in Albany. When I was working there, I was selling food on my own: peppers, flavored hot sauces. Then we got married, had a baby and bought a house. Tamika was the missing link for me to making it all come together.
“We decided to continue with the catering. I met Nigel Redman, who had a mentorship program, which I did for about two years. He said we needed to figure out a way to bottle this stuff and turn it into a business. We did our research and looked into the infrastructure and how to get it all done. In our first line we had almost 25 products. My wife and I hit the road and, within a week’s span, she got us in 12 stores.”
Tamika is a nurse who says she doesn’t have one sales bone in her body. “This is a huge learning curve for me. What I bring to the table is the health aspect of things. So our product line is unique, wherein we use Himalayan salt instead of iodized salt, for example, because it has all the minerals. And coconut oils. There’s nothing from a can or a jar. No GMOs. It’s a holistic approach to business and to our products. There’s a health dynamic to our company itself.
“That also ties into what we’re doing in the community as well, because we want people to get up and dance and move and participate. Endorphins create more endorphins. I’ve been in health care my entire life. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach; well, when I met Martin, he brought me food! I thought, ‘This is confirmation, this was all I needed.’ I thought, ‘We’re gonna have to figure this business thing out and make it a legitimate, viable situation.’”
Martin talks about being the prototypical American who had the ambition and the dream, but didn’t know how to go about it. “Typically that’s where a dream dies: when it sparks, but then you’re trying to figure out how to get it done. We were blessed to have Nigel come along. And, like the Carnival, we want to be a beacon for others also. There are so many others out there like us.”
“Obstacles are to be expected, and you have to navigate above those obstacles,” says Tamika, who is the official head of the company. “That’s really what separates out people and their success and their capability of creating for themselves. We just put in for another company to start incubating businesses, to provide guidance for whatever business someone sets their mind to. It will be their work, but we’re gonna help with [issue such as]: ‘You need to fill out this paperwork, this is who you go to, these are good resources in the community.’ We want to really encourage entrepreneurs and try to save them a few hiccups along the way. We’ve been through it.”
“That’s where networking comes in,” says Martin. “We started from Ground Zero, and then we met Nigel. By trade, he’s an engineer, not a food person. What I’ve always admired about him is that there was never any blockage to getting started. Basically, the foundation that he gave us carried us through: just understanding that an obstacle is part of the process. What we can provide is our experience and the networking web we’ve created and continue to create. That’s the value you have to offer: just to point someone in a direction. Because [in a startup] if you don’t know somebody like Nigel, that window of opportunity closes or that door’s never opened.”
When asked how they measure success and plan for the future of their endeavors, Martin says, “Regarding the Carnival, we haven’t set a metric for measuring success. You can’t really measure it until you’re there. This type of project is so young, there’s not a body of work that you can measure it against. It was mind-blowing that so many people came last year. This year, my measure of success is the energy of the people that are there: the joy on kids’ faces, my daughter running around playing with kids she didn’t know, the kids all dancing. That’s how I measure success: the reaction of the community afterwards. Off of one year, already I feel successful, because the community is looking forward to something we’ve created.
“In West Indian background, boys are taught by their mothers how to cook and to be domesticated. The mentality is: You ain’t gonna just expect your wife to cook. You’d better know how to cook and clean. The fact that I’m able to honor my mother in that she instilled this in me, and now this [business] is a byproduct of that – our first company honors her in the Mamma Blossom line of recipes. We want to be successful enough in our business to give back. Somebody who’s ambitious, we can help and guide them, and that’s another measure of success.”
“We cold-pack in a facility in Naples, New York, in the wine country,” says Tamika. We found a wonderful company, Arbor Hill, and we’ve been growing together, increasing their capacity. They work to scale, so you can come with 50 cases or 500 cases. We try to source ingredients as locally as possible. Obviously, you can’t buy papayas and mangos from New York. But we try to get as much as possible from local farms.
“When we developed the company, I was working in the cardiac critical care unit, seeing the same faces back in the hospital fighting for their lives for weeks on end. We have geared our recipes to treat healing from within: the food-is-medicine premise. If you look at the ingredients list, you’ll see that sodium is so minute, but we’ve got so much to create an amazing flavor base. We use agave in our products instead of sugar. We have salt-free seasonings. We’re preservative-free. All the herbs we use have benefits. In all of these layers, we try to make sure that all ingredients in every product we have, it’s healthy.”
And so is going out to dance and play with friends and neighbors in the community. For more information about the Carnival, e-mail email@example.com and check Seasoned Delicious on Facebook. Proceeds from the raffle and all donations will benefit the Center for Creative Education in Kingston.
Caribbean Carnival, Sunday, August 11, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free, Cantine Veterans’ Memorial Complex/Kiwanis Ice Arena, 6 Small World Ave., Saugerties; (845) 616-1689, www.seasonedelicious.com.