Jerome Joseph

Virgin Islander Jerome Joseph made his dream of starting a vegan food truck a reality in the beginning of March — an opening date that was pushed back by Hurricane Irma. Mr. Joseph’s mobile restaurant — located outside the Tortola Pier Park — is currently open Monday through Friday for breakfast, though he hopes to expand his menu as clientele grows.

Months of planning

This is a long, long dream that just finally came true. Eating plant-based is what we need for many different reasons. My saying is: Eat to live, don’t live to eat.

This business was supposed to be in the making before Irma. Actually [the truck] had a few difficulties in the building of it and the process was moving very slow. Then the floods happened in August and I was glad I wasn’t ready as yet.

Then when I realised it was going to be a real long hurricane season — and I was waiting on some paperwork while the truck was just sitting in a storeroom in Florida. I wondered why I was having such a hard time getting this stuff. Irma showed me that I was lucky. My dream would have gone just as soon as it came in.

But after Irma it was rough for me, because even though they had one or two [food stores] open I just can’t go, so I had to fend for myself. I became more of a fruitarian during that time, just eating a lot of fruit and veg. A lot of it was raw as well. It was difficult.

I left for two weeks, gained my energy and came back. Plus, I had to leave because just seeing the whole destruction of it — I had to leave. I was not in a bad situation, my home was safe, but just driving around seeing the destruction, the long lines at the supermarket, I just couldn’t deal with it.


Starting the business

I’m a vegetarian for 23 years now and in the last 10 I became vegan. I was still doing a little fish here and there and still doing cheese, and I decided I don’t need these things in my system, I really don’t. When I didn’t eat them, I still felt good, so I decided to take it to the next level and go strictly vegan.

I tell my friends all the time that I don’t share pots, meaning I cannot go to a regular restaurant wanting to be vegan and say: “Give me the sides.” We have what we call cross-contact and cross-contamination. So I’m not taking any chances. I want to know for sure that I’m vegan.

The whole plan behind [the truck] was there was nowhere in the BVI where you could actually go and sit down, or grab to go, vegan food.

There’s three other spots [on Tortola] that do vegan/vegetarian, and one that does full vegan. There’s Chic Gourmet, which is a pastry shop in Fish Bay — and she does food as well and she’s 100 percent vegan.


Eating vegan

[Customers like the food] because it’s different. I’m doing stuff they’ve never heard of before, like apple pancakes. I do what we call “not-tuna” — it tastes like tuna but it’s not. It’s made from carrots, seaweed. I do hash browns, I do scrambled tofu.

I’m also working hopefully next month to have gluten-free, soy-free tofu for those who want to avoid soy products, and that one is made from chickpeas.

I try to make my drinks now — my naturally squeezed drinks — but I don’t sell it as just a drink. Here in the BVI we don’t really have many full vegans. We have people that eat vegan here and there, but for those who don’t want to go vegan, at least if you can give them something and say like: “Drinking this green juice will help keep your skin clean,” or “If you have a headache, you can drink this juice.”

That’s the kind of message I actually want to be pushing out there, because I know your food is your medicine and your medicine is your food. Everything we need is in our food if we know how to eat it.

I make fun of my friends all the time and say, “Let’s do the meat test.” And they say, “Yeah, I love meat, I love meat!” And I’ll be like, “Look: You don’t love meat. Let me tell you what you love.” If I bring you a piece of chicken right now, you see me pluck all the feathers off and I throw it in a frying pan and give it to you, you’d say you don’t want that.

If I take that same chicken and put on some thyme, some onions, some garlic — you actually like the seasoning, but you don’t like the meat. That’s what you really like.


Changing mindsets

I’ve seen a change in the last ten years [in the VI]. People are getting sick and the doctor will say no more red meat, no more this, no more that. But one of the problems we have is that same doctor is not telling you what to go and eat.

So there is where I want to bridge that gap and come into play. I have people telling me, “I am diabetic.” So I try and give them a meal plan, and if I can’t fully do that I can recommend you to someone right here on the island who can actually give you a meal plan.

I’m from right here in the BVI, so fish was the hardest things to get rid of because I grew up fishing myself. When I became vegan, I was still eating fish. And for most people it’s the hardest thing to get them to stop eating.

A lady came to me last week and said what she heard about being vegan, that it makes you sick. Well, I wouldn’t tell anyone to just jump into the vegan style. Some people are not strong, so when they start, the craving is there.

So you work your way there gradually. You begin by doing one meal a day vegan or vegetarian. Then eventually you have two meals a day, then three.


Future plans

Right now this truck is permanent here. But let’s say we have a nice event coming up — a reggae event, horse racing or whatever — all I have to do is go to the organiser, get the proper papers, and I can go and present my stuff.

Right now the customers love the different style of breakfast, so next they’re asking for lunch. If all goes well, every Wednesday in the month of April I’ll try my hand at doing lunch.

I’m by myself. In business, until I build the clientele, I want to be the only person [working here]. I got to start small. I can’t pay myself but at least I’m building the clientele. If it goes well, I made the sacrifice now to reap later on.


Interview conducted,  condensed and edited by Amanda Ulrich.