When Carlene Smith Martin moved to Newnan 13 years ago, she was a food safety and quality supervisor for Cargill. While living in the area, she met her future husband, Carlton, and they married in 2006.
Now Carlene, 43, a native of Jamaica, and Carlton, 42, a son of Newnan, are co-owners of a new Caribbean restaurant called Jamaica Cea Breeze. The business, located at 3653 Victory Drive, opened Feb. 19 after two years of planning.
"It was always my desire to have a restaurant," said Carlene, sitting next to Carlton while soca and reggae music played in the background. "My husband is like my backbone. He said, 'If this is really what you want to do, I'm behind you 100 percent.'"
The Martins opened the restaurant while both working their regular jobs and managing a blended household with five children. Carlene is currently a site environmental and safety manager at Kellogg's, which sits across the street from the restaurant. Carlton is owner of CMJ Construction, which does concrete work on Fort Benning. But he has been managing the restaurant while his wife is at work. Two of their children also work at the restaurant.
Carlene said they had originally planned to open the business in Newnan, but plans to purchase two other buildings fell through. When Carlene started working at Kellogg's, she saw a sign that read: "Restaurant and Bar Now Leasing."
So, the couple called and rented the space for a year before launching the business. Carlton said the building was originally a Bonanza, and was the location of several clubs over the years. Now, it's a full-blown eatery with seating for 143 people.
Here's what Carlene and Carlton had to say about their new business venture. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So, what inspired you to open a restaurant?
Carlene: My hobby is cooking and entertaining. And it's so funny because he loves to entertain too, only thing is he doesn't have the gift of cooking.
Carlton: At home, we throw a lot of parties, 4th of July cookouts, Jamaican parties, anything to get people together to have fun.
What response have you received from the community?
Carlene: Very positive. We get between 100 and 200 customers a day. We have a Facebook page and have received lots of really good feedback.
Did you face any challenges?
Carlene: This is new for both of us. So when we first opened, we had to learn lots of things like how to get things done quickly and how to tackle a big group and make sure everybody is happy. We learned a lot of that gradually and I think pretty much understand the process now. We organized the kitchen a little bit differently to provide more space so we could lay out things a little bit better.
Carlton: Every day we're still learning. The biggest thing for me was customer service, trying to please everybody. Sometimes no matter what you do, you can't please everyone. And that was kind of hard for me. My wife, she deals with people a lot. But me being in the construction business, it's only me and my work. So, I had to learn to bite my tongue a little bit and know that the customer is always right.
Who's doing all the cooking?
Carlton: Carlene has a sister here, and she brought two aunts from Jamaica. It's all authentic. A lot of people ask me about things cooking-wise and I just have to tell them, "The ladies in the back are the experts."
Now you're American, Carlton. Meeting your wife, was that your first exposure to Caribbean food?
Carlton: Yes, for the most part. But I've eaten oxtail all my life.
Who are generally your customers?
Carlene: We have like 60 percent military. And we do provide them with a military discount, not just them but any law enforcement personnel.
Carlton: Most are Americans, even though we get a lot of people from the Caribbean too.
Is there a large Caribbean population in Columbus?
Carlene: I had no idea it was this big. But a lot of people who come in are from the Caribbean.
Carlton: A lot of Panamanians, people from Barbados and other islands. It seems like everybody I meet and talk to are from the Caribbean. And I think we probably haven't even tapped into half of it. The majority of them are soldiers. I ask them where they're from and they tell me the different islands, some of them places I've never heard of.
What are the popular items on the menu?
Carlene: We have jerk chicken, very popular. We also get a lot of orders for oxtail and steam fish and bammy (a cassava flatbread).
Carlton: And curry goat. We sell a lot of that too.
What type of entertainment do you have on a nightly basis?
Carlton: On Friday nights, we have Caribbean Night with a live DJ who plays soca, reggae and dance hall. His name is Magnum Sound Entertainment. Right now we're having about 80 people on Friday nights. It starts at 8 p.m. and goes until about 1 a.m.. On Saturdays, we have Chicago Stepping. We have a guy who teaches the class. His name is DJ Eway. He's with United Steppers. He teaches the class from 6 to 7 p.m. and then from 7 to 11 they dance.
Carlene: We can't sell any alcohol past 2 a.m. So we shut the kitchen down about 1.
Any other upcoming events?
Carlton: We're having Caribbean Fun Day on June 14th. We're going to have a cookout here with games. And then on Aug. 2, we're celebrating Jamaican Independence Day.
You've described the business as a family restaurant and not a club. How do you make that distinction?
Carlton: First of all, we don't have a cover charge. Secondly, we don't crank up the music until about 10 o'clock because we still want people to be able to feel comfortable enough to eat where the music is not too loud or anything like that. And we want them to bring their children.
What are the hours of operation?
Carlton: Monday through Thursday, it's 10:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, it's 10:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. We're closed on Sundays.
Why are you closed Sundays?
Carlton: When we started we had it open seven days a week. But it got to the point where it was 17 hours a day, seven days a week, no time to see my kids, no time to spend with my wife. So, Easter Sunday was our first Sunday off, and I was like "You know what? That's it." Now, on Sundays when we're home, everybody sleeps the whole day. We get refreshed and we start back Monday morning.
Names: Carlton Martin and Carlene Smith Martin
Ages: Carlton, 42; Carlene, 43
Hometowns: Newnan (Carlton) and Jamaica (Carlene)
Current residence: Newnan
Education: Carlene has a bachelors and masters degree in animal science from Prairie View A&M University in Texas; Carlton has a high school diploma, a few college courses, and a certificate in electronic engineering from ITT Tech.
Family: Daughters Saysha, 25, and Jameria, 24. Sons Carlton III, 20; Sean, 9; and Carby, 6.
Leisure time: Carlton breeds dogs and Carlene entertains, talks on the phone and listens to music.