Thunder Bay, Ont. — Business is on a roll along Highway 61 with entrepreneurs opening their doors to the public. One of these operations, called 876 Tastebuds Restaurant and Juice Bar, has opened in the Country Plaza next to the Bean and Olive Restaurant. Stacy Ann McFarlane says her restaurant is a “nod” to her Jamaican culture. “The number 876 is the area code for Jamaica, so I just gave it a little nod by putting it in my business name,” said McFarlane, who owns the restaurant and is a trained personal support worker. “It has always been in the back of my mind to own and operate a restaurant.” During Christmas last year, McFarlane began cooking for her medical colleagues. “Many immigrants are moving into the city of Thunder Bay and when it comes to the holiday time, lots of people have to work,” she said. “It just came upon me to cook some dishes for them.” In December of 2022, McFarlane organized a “major cookout” and sold most of those dishes to her colleagues. “They told me I was in the wrong field and that prompted me to come back into the atmosphere, the kitchen, my dynasty that I love, which pushed me to open up my restaurant here,” she said. As a Jamaican restaurant, McFarlane’s menu is predominantly Jamaican dishes. “Our mainstays are jerk pork, jerk chicken, rice and peas and I also have a little more expansion to that menu,” she said. “I also have a seafood section and a section for vegetarians, because we cater for everybody.” McFarlane’s signature dish is a competition between jerk chicken and jerk pork. “They are always neck and neck and those are my mainstays and my most popular dishes . . . and yes, it’s spicy . . . if you want it to be,” she noted. “A lot of people tend to think that Jamaican food must be spicy. It’s not. For the spice lovers and the pepper lovers, absolutely. I will add that pepper aspect for you. But I’m catering to the general public and not every palate can afford peppers. And because of that, I make all my dishes flavourful. You will taste a lot of spice but it’s not hot spice. But for those who want the hot spice, it’s readily available for them to have.” McFarlane says like most business startups, she has faced her own challenges. “Starting any business, especially as a sole proprietor, there will be challenges. There will be physical, emotional and financial challenges. It takes a lot to start up a business,” she said. “For anyone who is thinking about it, make sure that you guide yourself and give yourself enough space and room to make formidable decisions. Ensure that you have that allotted time of freeing yourself so that you can just take two steps back and reassess your situation before moving forward.” McFarlane says the challenges will be there and no industry is challenge-free. “You’ve got to take it one step at a time and face the challenge head-on,” she pointed out. “That’s what I’ve been doing so far. You’ve got to make sure that when the challenges come, you hit them head-on, and you keep moving forward with a positive mindset.” McFarlane called Highway 61 traffic “enormous” and said her restaurant is in a good spot. Away from the hustle and bustle in the city, she says she loves the openness and calmness of the area and noticed the community is large. Ahead, she wants to “dig into” the Thunder Bay market a little bit more. “We have lots of restaurants in the city, we have lots of choices for people to make. I’ve created a niche because I only specifically cater to Jamaican dishes,” she said.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal