ST PAUL, Minn. — If you grew up in a Jamaican family, the sounds and smells at Nanny's Jamaican Kitchen in St. Paul are undeniable.
And for Chef Okkoy Graham, his mom Joan is at the center of it all, literally right in the middle of his restaurant's logo.
"I don't know what I would do without her," Chef Okkoy said. "I'll be honest with you to say that. I don't know. I'd be like Alice in Wonderland without her."
Boosted by that love for his mom, seven months ago Chef Okkoy decided to explore the wonderland known as "entrepreneurship."
"Doing two jobs, I always come home tired and I'm like 'Why am I doing this to myself?'"
Chef Okkoy worked at restaurants around the state for years, until he was caught up in the "Great Resignation" during the pandemic. Millions of Americans, like him, decided to quit their day jobs and go into business for themselves.
"The very first week I thought to myself 'Why did I leave my job?'"
It was a tough decision, but he feels like he jumped in at the right time.
WATCH: KARE in the Kitchen with Nanny's Jamaican Kitchen
"Jamaican restaurants and Jamaican culture has been playing a big part in the Twin Cities lately. Jamaica is a large consumer of Minnesota tourists. There's a large number of people who go to Jamaica every year… especially with winter. "
To stand out in the middle of the boom, he said authenticity is key.
"You want to make sure your jerk chicken, your jerk pork, your rice and peas, whatever it is, is cooked the same way that it's cooked in Jamaica," he says.
It hasn't been easy.
Chef basically runs the place on his own, save for one part-time employee, and as you've seen.... everything is expensive right now.
"When you really look into the cost of goods, the labor to prepare it… and then you have to make sure you sell it at a reasonable price… then you have to pay sales tax… pay all your bills and all of that."
But it all comes back to that face in the middle of that logo. Through it all, it's his mom's voice that keeps him going.
"I raised three of you, and it was hard, why are you worried about giving up?"
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