On Saturday, August 12, the fourth annual Hudson Valley Caribbean Carnival returns to Cantine Field in Saugerties. Admission is free for all to this festive cultural event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a parade starting at 2 p.m., and participants are encouraged to dress up in Carnival-appropriate garb (think lots of feathers and spangles!) to compete for prizes in the costume contest. Vendors of authentic Caribbean foods will be a big draw, along with traditional crafts from the diverse islands of the West Indies.
Live music will go on all day, as well as performances of percussive step-dancing and Puerto Rican bomba dancing. Expect plenty of reggae and a seven-piece Afro-Cuban band, among others; the headline act is Max-A-Million, an ensemble best-known for a reggae version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” “We went over-budget with our entertainment this year,” says lead organizer Tamika Dunkley. “It’s jam-packed!”
Hosting this event, since its first incarnation in 2018 (with a two-year hiatus during the pandemic), has been just one piece of the mission of Tamika and her husband Martin Dunkley to give back to their community. Their company Seasoned Delicious Foods, founded in 2014, has been successful enough to support a variety of charitable activities designed to assist people of color in the Saugerties/Lake Katrine/Kingston corridor, such as combating food insecurity by distributing local produce from the Hudson Valley Farm Hub’s Food Access Program to urban “food desert” neighborhoods via food pantries, soup kitchens and community fridges. They were also among the Good Samaritans who prepared meals for free distribution to the housebound during the Covid lockdown.
Martin grew up in the South Bronx, the son of a Jamaican immigrant family who owned an antique store, and learned how to prepare traditional Jamaican cuisine at home. “I was taught to be in the kitchen early. My parents were both good cooks,” he says. “I enjoy eating.” He pursued a varied career in sales and marketing, eventually finding a business mentor in an engineer named Nigel Redman, who inspired him to set out on his own as an entrepreneur. “He taught me the fundamentals, the nuances, the disciplines of business.”
It was in New Paltz that Martin met Tamika, then in the midst of a 17-year career as a registered nurse and dietitian. A native of New York City, she spent a lot of time upstate from childhood on. “My parents met in Woodstock. In fact, my father played at Woodstock!” she relates. “He was the conga player who played with Hendrix – the one in the purple pants.” Martin was already doing a little home-based catering work at the time they first met. “He brought me a plate of curry chicken and I knew I was going to marry him,” she says.
Fast-forward a few years, after they had wed and were raising a daughter: Martin expanded his food business, concocting a line of shelf-stable prepared foods that could be sold at farmers’ markets, shipped to stores or sold by mail order, based on his mother’s Jamaican recipes. Working from home quickly became unviable, so he began searching for an affordable commercial kitchen. Seasoned Delicious Foods got its start at St. Mary’s of the Snow Church in Saugerties, with kitchen time booked “by donation,” Tamika notes.
Today, the company has three different product lines. Seasoned Authentic Caribbean Foods features Mamma Blossom’s Seasonings & Spices (named for Martin’s mother), along with authentic Caribbean hot sauces and relishes. Above Earth Foods offers a line of condiments that include mustards, spreads, preserves, vinegars, oils and a sherry barbecue sauce. Afya Power Foods is a developing line of healthy snacks and beverages.
Tamika, whose nursing career primarily focused on cardiac care, brought her health-conscious perspective to the operation. Under her supervision, all Seasoned Delicious Foods products are heart-healthy, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free and certified Kosher. “We use high-quality sugars and salts such as agave and Himalayan salt. Fillers, artificial preservatives and bulk additives are not found in our product lines,” says the company website. The Dunkleys pride themselves on offering farm-to-table products as well, sourcing their ingredients locally to the greatest extent possible.
As noted above, the company was already doing well enough by 2018 to enable them to throw a Caribbean Carnival party for what they thought might be a few hundred friends – and then thousands showed up. Part of the process of organizing such a large event involved giving business guidance to new vendors who needed to know how to get insurance, register with the IRS for Employer Identification Numbers, create LLCs and the like. Martin wanted to share what he had learned during his mentorship with Redman, to “pay it forward.” The following year, as they were preparing to reprise the event on a larger scale, the Dunkleys decided to apply for a 501 (c) (3) and set up a not-for-profit, called Seasoned Gives.
“In January of 2020, I put nursing on hiatus and we went online,” recounts Tamika. More than 30 stores throughout New York State were carrying Seasoned Delicious products by that point. And then along came COVID, and suddenly everyone wanted to shop virtually for cooking ingredients. “That was one of the silver linings: Our business exploded.”
As if they weren’t busy enough, the Dunkleys also answered the call for community organizations to prepare meals-on-wheels for shut-ins during the pandemic. As more area residents were exposed to Martin’s cooking, local interest in Seasoned Delicious Foods increased, and people started asking why they didn’t have a bricks-and-mortar storefront. By September of that year, the company was opening its first small shop and takeout café in the new Energy Square building at 10 Cedar Street in Kingston.
It wasn’t long before the retail operation outgrew the space, and growth was happening on the charitable front as well. “In the wake of George Floyd, everyone was looking for Black and brown businesses to support,” Tamika remembers. “We were asked to speak at a rally in Kingston.” The Dunkleys suddenly found themselves being asked by bankers for advice on how to improve their services to BIPOC communities, and budding entrepreneurs wanted to pick their brains as well. So, it seemed like the right time for Seasoned Gives to change its focus: “We decided to shift the mission to fighting economic injustice.”
Today, the not-for-profit arm of this little Caribbean foods empire defines its mission as “to educate, incubate and promote entrepreneurship for the BIPOC community and women, creating lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and social injustice through education, ownership and self-sufficiency.” It needed much more space to host an incubator program where business startups could be nourished, and that meant having a commercial kitchen of its own. In the spring of 2021, the Dunkleys took over a large building at 11 Lohmaier Lane in Lake Katrine that is visible from Route 209. It had previously housed a series of restaurants, including Smokin’ Boar BBQ and Fred’s Place.
Rechristened the Seasoned Evolution Center, the building now houses a working restaurant once again: Seasoned Delicious Foods Café, serving Caribbean specialties such as jerk chicken and pork, curried goat, oxtail and fried fish, plus an ample selection of vegan alternatives. It’s open for business from noon to 9:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 2 to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.
But there’s much more going on in this sprawling space. Depending on what kind of food preparation they’re doing, the kitchen can accommodate “two to five entrepreneurs simultaneously,” in addition to the cooking for the Café, according to Tamika. Behind the kitchen proper is a series of “factory” rooms where yet more people can be at work, and they’re gradually filling up with new high-capacity food production equipment. There are three 80-gallon kettles and one of 100 gallons, and what Tamika calls “the Mac Daddy of ovens,” which can bake 200 loaves of bread at once. Many of the users of these kitchen facilities run food-truck businesses; most have undergone the mentoring program that Seasoned Gives has to offer.
Upstairs in the Seasoned Evolution Center is a suite of offices, one of which serves as the not-for-profit’s headquarters and the rest of which are available to mentees who need financially accessible co-working space or meeting rooms. Creating a media studio will be the next project following the Carnival, Tamika says. The largest upstairs space has been taken over as a martial arts gym, called One Strike Fitness, by one of the business incubator program’s most successful graduates so far: Chukie Agbogun.
“Being mentored made a tremendous difference in every single aspect of my business,” Agbogun says. “I learned that you have to know your numbers, target your markets, learn how to hire and invest in your staff, opportunities for funding, how to network with other businesses and entrepreneurs. It took off like a rocket ship.” He also praised the “caring” aspect of the program, noting, “It was something that money couldn’t even buy, like a family who really wants to see you succeed.” Today he has gone from mentee to mentor, and runs his own program for kids called Bully-Free Fun Solutions. At the upcoming Caribbean Carnival, Agbogun will oversee the children’s programming, according to Tamika.
Workshops regularly offered at the Seasoned Evolution Center – all free to the community, with a goal of 90 percent of participants being BIPOC or women entrepreneurs – range from an introductory financial literacy program for youth to six-week and 12-week business incubator programs. The curriculum covers foundational principles of entrepreneurship including best business practices, marketing guidance, core social, organizational and problem-solving skills, leveraging and building networks, comparisons of business models and their tax ramifications, financing options, creating budgets, projections and profit-and-loss statements. Each participant is assigned a mentor, and the coaching relationship continues after the unit ends.
The Dunkleys admit that the most basic financial advice proffered here can be obtained on websites run by banks or the IRS. What they bring to the table is their personal experience of learning by doing, while finding ways around the extra hurdles faced by people of color who are trying to start a business, along with their willingness to advocate on behalf of neophyte entrepreneurs from the BIPOC community. “The difference is relatability. Experience trumps empathy every single time,” says Tamika. Martin agrees: “We specialize in the cultural aspect of it. We can help facilitate and navigate problem resolution.”
Seasoned Gives claims that it has “successfully incubated 86 businesses, all of whom are still in business today and continuing to scale,” as well as created 31 local jobs. More than 90 percent of those who completed the mentorship program have gone on to establish their own businesses. There’s no lack of applicants through word-of-mouth, and there’s a waiting list to use the kitchen/factory space. What are sorely needed now, says Tamika, are more mentors.
“The building is more than a sum of its parts; it is a revolution providing vital infrastructure for the next generation of BIPOC and female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and transform the financial legacy of their families and communities for generations to come,” says the Seasoned Gives website. “Simply put, the Seasoned Evolution Center is a game-changer, providing the resources, tools and knowledge to create truly equitable opportunities that BIPOC and female entrepreneurs have historically been excluded from to create and scale their business ideas.”
To learn more about Seasoned Delicious Foods Café, visit www.sdfcafe.com or www.facebook.com/seasoned2017. For more on Seasoned Delicious Foods, including online ordering, visit www.seasoneddeliciousfoods.com. For information about mentoring and other programs at the Seasoned Evolution Center, visit www.seasonedgives.org.