Approximately six weeks from today, Lisa Palmer plans to open the doors to The Caribbean Kitchen, a new restaurant in downtown Attleboro.
Palmer hopes to dispel the stereotypes of Jamaica and its culture.
"You think of jerk, Reggae, marijuana and the ocean," Palmer said. "But I want to introduce people to the other side of Jamaica. I want to bring the history of Jamaica, which is so rich and so textured."
Her vision for the space includes a small restaurant that serves both cheap eats such as jerk chicken and more expensive dishes such as escovitch fish. The interior will feature dark, bamboo floors, lush window treatments, tropical plants reminiscent of Jamaican florals and reclaimed plantation shutters.
A Purposed Life
The long-time Attleboro resident and mother of four said she is putting her career as a nurse on hold to pursue something that will make her want to jump out of bed every morning.
"I never had a vision that I would open a restaurant," she said. "But, I knew I wanted to do something different. I’m the biggest domesticate you’ll ever meet. I sew, I knit, I make my own organic oil."
Palmer remembers clearly the exact day she decided to put nursing on hold. It was last January while she sat in church.
"The sermon was about what are you living for," she said. "And they asked 'If you are not getting up and living a purposed life, why are you here?'"
Nursing provided a nice living, but Palmer said she didn't feel like she had a purpose.
"I went home, I prayed and talked with my husband," she said. "The second I stepped out of my comfort zone, the whole world lifted its top off for me."
Help from the City and Feds
The two discussed opening an ethnic beauty store or restaurant. "I wrote a business plan and walked it over toand asked if they had grants," she said. "We weren’t there more than 10 minutes before they said we want to help."
Then the fear rushed in and they started to ride the trajectory. Palmer applied for a small business loan at a nearby bank, but was denied.
"They had me apply for SEED (South Eastern Economic Development Corp.) money, but we didn't qualify at that time," she said. "The denial letter is what helped me get the money."
Palmer is referring to the $76,000 she received in Community Development Block Grants that are appropriated by the federal government for use in qualifying communities.
The only two rules Palmer needs to follow is to pay back the loan portion of the funding in five years and to hire two full-time Attleboro employees.
"It would have been virtually impossible without CDBG," Palmer said.
Bureaucracy and Time
While Palmer is on the right path to open the restaurant, she admits it has been somewhat of a challenge.
"I’ve been very needy over the last year and have had a couple meltdowns when I thought things should go faster," she said. "I could not grasp the bureaucracy and I wondered why is it taking so long for this signature.
"They had to check me out and to make sure they were making a sound decision," she added. "The city wanted a restaurant and they wanted it downtown.
"Personally, all things considered, my experience was pretty seamless."
Hiring the Right Contractor
Now, with the funds in hand, Palmer was able to get bids from contractors willing to transform the old Park Street retail space into a restaurant.
"I started talking to officials in City Hall and they encouraged me to bid it out and said 'we cannot say one or the other,'" Palmer said. "I included Cobalt because I knew they were involved with the project.
"The other two I looked into on my own," she said. "One was Corporate Construction and the other was a referral from a friend, but they weren’t sure they had the man power for the job."
Palmer chose Cobalt Construction to handle the construction of her new restaurant, which is slated to begin in six weeks.