After a two-year hiatus, one of Berkeley’s longest running food carts, Daniel’s Caribbean Kitchen is back. Specializing in Trinidadian food, the mobile business has returned to selling its much loved dalpuri roti, chicken pelau, carnival salads and other island cuisine at the Saturday Berkeley farmers market and the Ashby Flea Market, Saturdays and Sundays.
But there’s more in the works — and more good news — for eager diners. The kitchen now offers an organic menu, a vegan menu and will soon open its first brick-and-mortar location at 2608 Market St. in West Oakland.
Daniel’s Caribbean Kitchen is a family business, a joint venture between owner Stephen Daniel and his daughter and business manager, Jamila Daniel.
Stephen first started Daniel’s Caribbean Kitchen as a food cart set up at Center Street and Shattuck Avenue soon after coming to Berkeley in the 1980s. “This little city was so pretty,” he said. “And when I got here and saw the food vending carts I was very excited and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Since then, families on both sides of the take-out window have been passing down an appreciation for good food and community. “I’ve been working with Dad since I was 10-years-old at the cart window,” said Jamila, now a mother of three herself. “And I see friends of mine coming now with their own kids.”
“It’s really cool to watch generations come and support and enjoy what we do. Especially with us being a small business,” she said. “The food industry is a hard business to be successful in. We’re more than grateful for our community.”
The new West Oakland location is the result of hard work and strong local support. The kitchen launched a Kiva campaign to fundraise $8,000 to open its first storefront. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Kiva is a loan service. The Daniels quickly met their target with the help of 98 lenders.
“Not only did we reach our goal, but we reached our goal in less than half the time,” said Jamila. “We felt really, really blessed.”
The two felt very fortunate to have received such strong support, particularly after a long, though much-needed absence. Stephen hadn’t taken a vacation since 1987. “So the thing was on my shoulders, and it was a lot,” he said.
Taking a break enabled the two to re-prioritize their goals for the business and to transition ownership as Jamila steps up and Stephen winds down. Stephen will remain involved in the business he founded and Jamila will soon assume ownership, a change they both welcome.
“Man, I’m happy to be back,” said Stephen. “I’m glad the business has a good forward step to reopening and reconnecting with people.”
“We had some transitional behind-the-scenes work to do,” said Jamila, explaining the two-year gap. “Because this is a nonstop business, when we’re not out there we’re preparing for it.”
The Market Street location is nearly ready to open. The two are in the final round of permitting and are waiting on the go-ahead to open. “That’s our very last step,” said Jamila. “That’s literally the very last thing that we have to do.”
The West Oakland venue will eventually have customer seating, but the two want to keep the street cart spirit by operating as a takeout window. “Daniel’s always sold through a cart outside, amongst the people at events, or as a street vendor, and that’s what we want to keep going,” said Jamila.
Unlike the food cart, the brick and mortar will be cashless and will not take walk-up sales. Customers will place orders via partner delivery services, like Caviar, DoorDash, and GrubHub, to pick up at the window.
“We want to be able to give people good, delicious, Caribbean food quickly,” said Jamila. “It’s not fast food but we want to get it to you fast.”
The business may have started in Berkeley, but opening a retail location in West Oakland was an easy and deliberate choice for Stephen and Jamila. “It has a rich history and we liked the idea of being a black-owned business returning to West Oakland,” said Jamila. “It’s an environment that’s kind of been transitioning away from that.”
Rest assured though, for Berkeley locals looking for easy access to the kitchen’s popular dalpuri roti, Daniel’s Caribbean Kitchen will continue to operate on weekends at the Ashby Flea Market and the farmers market in downtown Berkeley.
For newcomers to Trinidadian cuisine, Stephen and Jamila describe their dalpuri roti as a circular seasoned flatbread roll stuffed with curry potatoes, carrots and chickpeas, with a protein of chicken, shrimp or fish added on top. “The product is a full meal item,” said Stephen. “You can buy and eat and walk and go your way.”
Like much of the Caribbean, the dish is the product of cultural fusion. Indentured servants from India brought flatbread and curry to Trinidad in the mid-19th century, while the vegetable and meat filling has influences from West African and the West Indies.
While traditionally the ingredients are all be cooked together to further meld their flavors, the Daniels make a point to mention that meat and fish are kept separate for customers with dietary restrictions and that their vegetarian roti is also vegan.
‘Roti’ is the Hindi word for bread and, more figuratively, for livelihood. Fitting then, as a new generation takes over, that a family business of making food has also become a way of life.