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Spotlight | "Flava From Jamaica": Visiting Gloucester Road's St. Mary's Kitchen

Aimee Anderson visits the Bristol-based St Mary's Kitchen and explores its role in the local Jamaican community.

By Aimee Anderson, Second Year, Politics and International Relations

With the economic impact of Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis in the UK, it is no secret that running a small local business is challenging. Home to Gloucester Road, the longest independent shopping street in Britain, this experience is particularly relevant to the city of Bristol. 

Tucked just below the arches is St Mary’s Kitchen, a family-run Jamaican restaurant and Takeaway. For the owner and chef of this establishment, there is only one thing which makes these worries worthwhile: her passion.

Lorna Coombs, a Jamaican-Indian member of the Bristol community, founded St Mary’s Kitchen in 2018. Her children had finished their education and the opportunity to open a restaurant presented itself; so she quit her job and pursued her lifelong dream. 

She comes from a long line of entrepreneurs – whether that be in the family she left behind in Jamaica or the uncle she arrived to in England. But this restaurant is more than just a business. Cooking has always been a central aspect of Lorna’s life, going right back to her childhood when she would watch her mother and grandmother at the stove. 

When cooking her favourite curried goat in the restaurant, the smell brings on waves of nostalgia. St Mary’s preserves and commemorates the relationship between Lorna and her family and home in Jamaica. 

Lorna’s personal connection to food is inextricably linked to Jamaican culture which comes from a diverse, multicultural nation. Commenting on the sense of unity in the country Lorna put it succinctly - ‘Out of many people, we are one.’ 

This statement is the motto of Jamaica, and symbolic of their culture of sharing. The status of food within Jamaican society further reflects this culture. As Lorna recalls, food was a constant presence in her childhood, it was the key to community, and it propels her passion for giving. 

In opening this restaurant, Lorna has transported the Jamaican ethos of giving into the community of Bristol.

Food was also at the centre of Lorna’s experience integrating into Britain as a member of the Windrush generation. She sums up the cultural differences perfectly: ‘I came from a home where we share, and I realised here you’ve got to be invited for dinner.’ In opening this restaurant, Lorna has transported the Jamaican ethos of giving into the community of Bristol.

St Mary’s Kitchen has a significant influence in its community. The establishment is a place where family members and university students alike can learn the Jamaican way of cooking, where no scrap of meat or vegetable goes to waste. All members of staff are part of the family. Customers are the priority. All ingredients used are fresh and traceable, and Lorna’s high standards mean hygiene, health and presentation take precedence. 

Additionally, all products are sourced from local businesses and local butchers. This establishment is undeniably embedded within the social networks of the Jamaican community in Bristol.

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Not only does St Mary’s Kitchen highlight the importance of the Windrush generation and Caribbean culture in Bristol, but it also illustrates the significance of independent businesses. Whilst chain establishments such as Nando’s and Turtle Bay may satisfy your cravings, it is hard to imagine that these places could ever hold as much of the community in their hands as an independent restaurant. 

If the Wagamama’s on Queens Road closed down, you would only have to take a trip down to Cabot Circus to get your fix of Katsu Curry or Yaki Udon. But every time an independent business closes, the loss is far greater than your favourite dish. These establishments bring people from all parts of the community together, support other local businesses, and teach people about different cultures and ways of life. They are key to our community, and they are key to sustaining a positive and welcoming multicultural society.

Featured Image: Epigram / Ellicia Metcalfe

Will you be visiting St Mary's Kitchen?