By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Partins Jamaican Bakery & Grill may be the only little lunch spot in the world designed primarily for the high-school trade with international connections and plans to attract overseas tourists.
After 20 years in the Army, the last eight at Fort Hood, Denise Eldred decided to retire here and start realizing a lifelong dream of starting a Jamaican restaurant named for her grandmother, Sybil Martin, a restaurateur in Jamaica for 40 years ending in the mid-1990s. Eldred doesn't know how she got the nickname "Partin" but says, "Every prime minister in Jamaica knew her that way."
"Partin" has since passed away, but the high-level connections live on, and this time, lifelong school friends are involved.
One of them, David Shields, is the deputy director of tourism for the Jamaican government, and he's secured a spot for Partins at the Houston Caribbean Festival in April. He also will work on interesting Jamaicans in the little home-style restaurant out on the Texas prairie to get them to visit the area.
"We're on the international market because of David," she said. "We represent Jamaica because of that, and for that reason, and to honor my grandmother, the food has to be absolutely authentic. It follows her recipes."
She said she and Shields have been friends "since we were 2 years old." She also called some other friends in Jamaica, most of whom attended Catholic schools with her, and invited them to help with the startup. She is the chief executive officer, and Suzanne Madrid is the manager.
Angela Chin-Fong came and designed a sign worth $2,500 free of charge, and Jacqueline Richards and Hope Wade have been handling promotion, which included a March 13 grand opening that ran until 11 p.m., three hours past closing time. About 130 people sampled food at the little restaurant, which only has a counter and a few tables, and about 100 a day have been through since then.
Attracting a crowd
A friend from the Army, Staff Sgt. Mike Madrid, did a lot of hammer-and-nail work getting the restaurant ready to open.
"I picked this spot right across from Killeen High School to accommodate students at lunch, but our busiest time so far has been at the end of the day, from 3 to 8 p.m."
The students include her own children, John and Nicole, who also help out at the restaurant, "long enough to pick up a few tips," she said. For the high school crowd, she features some very affordable items, including chicken wings and hamburgers. "Jamaican beef patties are a favorite with them," she said. The beef patties are among meat dishes baked inside pastries.
The best-selling Jamaican items on the extensive menu include jerk chicken, jerk pork, oxtail, curry chicken and curry goat. "Jerk" is the term for a spice preparation in pimento wood imported from the island.
Gaining a following
Eldred, now on terminal leave, started her Army career as a fueler but spent the last five of her eight years here in the recruiting office in Killeen Mall, "so I know a lot of people in town," she said. "I wanted to stay here because living is so affordable and because John and Nicole really want to stay in the same school."
An increasing number of people exiting the Army decide to become Central Texans for similar reasons, and many have contacts around the globe, but probably very few are as high-profile as Eldred has become.
"A Jamaican from Iraq came in the other day and said he heard of me there," she said. "He said I'm on Facebook all over the place over there."
But she emphasizes repeatedly that however successful she might become, the Jamaican recipes will never be adulterated. "We represent Jamaica, and I'm going to stay true to my grandmother's heritage," she said. "We're going to be 100 percent authentic."
The restaurant, open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, is at 441 N. 38th St., Suite 500, and can be reached at (254) 833-6400 or (254) 291-0365. Its Web site is www.partinsbakeryandgrill.com.
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or (254) 501-7557. Follow him on Twitter at KDHbusiness.