Success Story: Dee & Angello Gordon
Dee Gordon and her husband, Angello, are both United States Army veterans. Upon retiring from the military, Angello had a health scare that helped him to an epiphany- he’d done what his country needed and now it was time to do what he wanted with the rest of his life. He decided to open a restaurant so that he could cook the Jamaican food that was central to his culture. Dee had a head for business and, together, they bought a space and started serving customers at Jamaica Jamaica Cuisine only three months after Angello had the idea.
For the first year of the restaurant’s operation, Dee was still in the army. Angello ran the business on the home front and they developed a loyal following for their delicious food and community atmosphere, letting patrons sign the walls and, eventually, when they ran out of space, even the ceiling. When Dee left the military, she entered a program for veterans called “Boots to Business” that introduced her to LiftFund and the Women’s Business Center (WBC). She met mentors there and learned how to make a business plan to hone her good intuition into a skill to help their restaurant thrive.
Their regulars started asking to buy the secret spices and sauces that Angello cooked with and Dee saw the opportunity to expand the business. Through her engagement with the Women’s Business Center, she heard about Break Fast and Launch (BFL), LaunchSA’s culinary business accelerator. They joined a cohort and Dee says, “It helped us understand how to find our market and how to make sure we met industry standards. There was a wealth of information.” They are still in the research phase, not ready to go to market, but it was the perfect point to evaluate their product and make sure they did the whole process right from the beginning.
Dee says the resources at LaunchSA were invaluable, both from a business and a personal standard. She really connected with one of the mentors, Jody Newman, who talked about imposter syndrome in women entrepreneurs. Dee says, “No one wants to admit they don’t feel like they belong, but it’s the elephant in the room. Like, maybe I don’t have the same level of education or the same time I can dedicate, and if I didn’t do what they did, maybe I don’t belong here. But Jody felt that too, even with three locations around the city. Everyone feels it. And it helped me say, I am good enough. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.” Dee’s advice to new entrepreneurs is, “Look up to see where you are. Sometimes you just put your head down and do the work and don’t realize how far you’ve come. I’ll get in this mood where I go ‘If I could get…’ or ‘when I just do…’ then I’ll feel successful. I have a sneaking suspicion that I won’t feel like it then either, I’ll have found another goal.You’ve got to pause and see everything you’ve already done.”
Jamaica Jamaica expanded to a larger location three years ago and just celebrated their eighth year open. Says Dee, “The ride has been phenomenal. Moving from a 1000 square foot place to 4000 square feet, getting the bar, the mural, we even have a piece of the signature walls that we saved. We can host events here. It’s been amazing.” Dee is also happy to see that more ethnic food is becoming popular in San Antonio. “People will tell me about other Jamaican food places opening up, expecting me to be competitive,” she says, “but like, I want them to thrive too. There’s room for all of us.”
Dee and Angello are enjoying their thriving business, but they’re always evolving. As they’ve grown, Dee and Angello have been intentional about their hiring process, prioritizing battered women, non-violent ex convicts, and veterans to provide jobs for groups that often have limited opportunities. They’re always hosting live music events, community brunches with special menus, and even a monthly cooking show on Facebook Live with help from The One radio. One of Dee’s favorite events is a Christmas Dinner they provide for children that might not have enough to eat at home. They partner with local schools that they also do supply drives for and teachers help them invite students that could use a good meal and a loving environment for the holidays. Dee says, “Doing well is great for a lot of reasons, but I really love that it lets us give back. The better we do, the more we can give.”