Sometimes, you meet someone at the right place at the right time. One night, Warwick residents Alison Rosario and Conroy Outar met at a small business meeting. After talking a while, they realized that they both had a passion for Jamaican food and agreed there were very few Jamaican eateries in the Ocean State. At the time, both were also looking to start their own business. During their conversation, Alison blurted, “What about a Jamaican food truck?!” And from there, JA Patty, a Jamaican patty company, was born.
Alison and Conroy have different culinary backgrounds. Conroy’s entrance into the culinary field was circuitous. Growing up, he oscillated between what was deemed (at the time) a “less desirable” job as a cook, and one that was more pragmatic. But when he came to the United States from Jamaica, he got a job in Cape Cod as a dishwasher and slowly worked his way up to a management position. Alison has no former culinary training but was inspired to break into the industry because of her mother’s bakery. Although the two came from different beginnings, they share a common passion: to introduce Rhode Islanders to Jamaican food.
Says Conroy, “The purpose of starting JA Patty was to bring an elevated (fresher, layers of flavors, more attractive presentation) Jamaican cuisine to Rhode Island.” Alison has echoed this message, saying that the patties are just a vehicle to bring traditional Jamaican dishes like Ackee, Saltfish, and curried goat to the local population here in the state.
If you’ve never had a Jamaican patty, it’s very similar to a calzone or an empanada: a spoonful(s) of a protein/veggie filling wrapped and sealed off in a parcel of dough. All of JA Patty’s products are made by hand, out of Hope & Main in Warren. Alison says that there are multiple steps to the patty-making process that need to be followed precisely and in-order. “The temperature of the dough has to be just right to mix, and later to fill without ripping the dough.”
The snack food itself is, as Conroy puts it, “a collaboration of multiple cultures.” Indians (through way of the British) brought curry spice to Jamaica when the Carribean island was colonized. That is what gives the patty its unique taste and yellow coloring. He says that the item itself is special because it’s part of Jamaican culture — like a croissant is to the French, or broken rice is to the Vietnamese. It’s a quick way to get fuel on the way to work or to fill up at lunchtime midday.
One of the most common questions that the two get from first-time customers is, “What is this?” and “Is it spicy?” If you’re sensitive to spices, fear not! The chefs aim to focus on authentic flavor rather than adding spice for heat. For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, Alison recommends trying a beef patty first as a way of introducing your palate to their menu. Then, if you’re feeling adventurous, move on to their jerk patty, and delve into their goat curry patty head-first.
Currently, Alison and Conroy own a food trailer and do pop-ups across Rhode Island. The two also cater private events, but their short-term goal is to see their patties in supermarkets around the state.