Coconut water for thirst and profit

There’s nothing quite like a cool drink of coconut water to quench your thirst in these punishingly hot summer months. The fact that it is readily available from any coconut tree (if you can brave the climb and are skilled with a double-sharpened machete) makes it even sweeter.

Adding to the sweetness (both literally and figuratively) of this humble nut is all the extras and by-products it offers.

On my trek both across country and about town I got quite the education on what is now a thriving cottage industry –– from the quality of the jelly inside the coconut; how the colouring determines its level of sweetness; and even how the age of a dried coconut shell impacts on the grated crunchy fruit inside the nut impacts the outcome of a good old Bajan favourite: coconut bread.

Considering that a mere ten years ago, the coconut vendors across from the Dame Nita Barrow Roundabout at the top of Pine Road raised the ire of many a motorist, and were declared a public nuisance, now the sale of coconut water –– straight from the coconut, bottled and chilled (price ranges for jelly and differently sized bottles) –– reflects a serious business approach, entrepreneurial spirit and
public acceptance.

Jamal White at the Chickmont Roundabout preparing my “order” of two quarter-litre bottles from young coconuts.

It often doesn’t appear that way, but on my first stop Across Country, just past the Henry Forde Roundabout, two salesmen broke it all down for me. Anderson Greenidge and Jamal White have been running their business for about six years now “But it wasn’t always me and he here,” explained the baby-faced Jamal.

The more soft-spoken Anderson, or “Ronnie” as he prefers to be called, quickly clarified that “de boss gone. I’s [only] de driver [responsible for clean-up after a day’s work]” And it is a hard day’s work.

“We get here ’bout 6:30 this morning [and it’s] 2:35 now. We would leave here about 3:55 or 4:30,” Ronnie offered With those kinds of hours, plus the mandatory clean-up afterwards, my next obvious question was: “Is it worth it?” With a crinkled, doubtful look on his face, Ronnie finally answered: “When de water sellin’!”

Jamal chimed in with “some days it does be all right”, but Ronnie’s sober countenance soon became more stern as he added: “Some days does be hard, cuz so much coconut men out there now [that] getting the coconuts is de hustle.”

And here is where the hierarchy of the business became clearer. Coconuts have to be purchased from suppliers before men like Ronnie and Jamal can set up shop. Jamal boasts: “Yeah, we got customers from St Lucy straight to Christ Church, and all over Barbados.”

But despite the “hustle” and risky jaunt across the highway for customers headed the airport way and beyond, both Ronnie and Jamal say they love the sweet warm liquid that sloshes willingly out of a fresh water coconut, and that and the jelly help “cleanse” the digestive system.

It was time for my next stop; but of course I couldn’t leave without two half-litre bottles of the product itself –– which came in handy as I made my way along the highway.

On both sides of the highway outside the Deighton Griffith School, another pair of coconut vendors were plying their trade. But business was so busy that Sunday morning and employees so camera-shy, that I managed only a peek.

What was striking about the smaller operation, however, on the side taking you towards the airport was that it appeared to be a family-run affair. A young boy, wearing a tam to cover his locks, told me in barely a whisper that his uncle, who runs the stand, had gone to fetch more coconuts. I guess Ronnie was right: getting the coconuts in the first place is the hustle.

So sipping on Jamal and Ronnie’s ice-cold product I meandered to Warrens. It was action there from the very start –– so much so, the video interviews were quite a challenge to edit, as the busy salesman Albert Dalzel was constantly on the go, providing bottles, large and small, chilled, freshly poured and small containers of coconut jelly to customer’s parked on the hard shoulder. After all, these were regulars, and customer service was his number one priority.

One such customer is David Clement, who purchases his coconut water and jelly from the stand just past the Warrens Roundabout every Sunday religiously (if you’ll pardon the pun).

“I get to personally know [these guys]. I like them and they give me a good service . . . . The water is nice and fresh, and it lasts long. If I put it in the fridge, it doesn’t go off.

“The guys actually cut it and put it in the bottle in front of me; so I know it’s fresh coconut water; not water that you go [and get], and I don’t know nothing about.”And, with that endorsement, David instructed me to buy two bottles too!

But while we were chatting there was so much more going on than the sale of coconut water. An intense clean-up crew –– headed by a sinewy fellow known to his comrades as Shankle Agouti –– was making sure the pile-up of empty shells along the road and which had fallen into the culvert in front of the Massy office did become too high and a hazard.

They were so intent on their jobs I still don’t think any of them noticed I was there. And this is what struck me: how do you get young able-bodied men motivated to (as the old Bajan ditty goes) “work all day in the blazing sun”, with so many other money-making activities (nefarious and otherwise) that could take up less of their time and with a whole lot less effort?

Albert says it’s about a sense of community and helping to grow the business for all involved from the ground up “It isn’t always about collar and tie; it’s all about making a dollar; it’s different times,”
he suggested.

Competition is indeed stiff . . . . Less that 100 yards down the hard shoulder from David Mondore’s business, two young men with barely a funnel, a few bottles and a bunch of coconuts between them were still trying to attract sales.

The business itself is owned by David Mondore; but the eagle-eyed Albert explained “it’s a group of us, and we started selling from a wheelbarrow; that was like ten 15 years ago”.

“And as we grow, we get to a stage where we hire a truck, we buy the coconuts and we sell here. And after, we pick up the shells, send the shells to the dump. All in all, it’s an organization, a group of us,” he added.

One and a half truckloads of coconuts sold is considered a good day for Albert and his team, but that doesn’t always translate directly to an exact dollar figure. After all, what is a salesman without the talent
for negotiation? “A bottle of water is $12; sometimes people want two bottles for $20; and we will sell to them. We’re not going to turn away a sale,” Albert said Then came more education on the humble coconut from a young man with an intense expression whose skilful right hand had not stopped swinging to release coconut water from its shells since the moment I had shown up. His name is Roderick DaCosta, but his well-earned moniker is Master Samurai.

“Some people are diabetic, so they come and ask for younger coconut water; while some people just like something sweet in their mouth, so they come for only jelly coconut water . . . . So we mix it with young and sweet. So if you want it in between we do that,” he explained.

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Yoshi, aka Samurai Jack, keeps sales ticking over with the speed and skill of his machete. Here he takes a well-earned break after the Sunday marathon chopping session in Warrens.

Well, as you can imagine, going About Town, Across Country is can be tiring work. Just as I was putting the lens cap on my camera, I spied a wilting figure slunk against a tree having his lunch. They call him Yoshi, and he happens to be Mr Mondore’s brother. Albert whispered conspiratorially to me that Yoshi can cut a thousand coconuts in a day without getting a single scratch! (Yikes!)

So, between Roderick Da Costa, aka Master Samurai, and Yoshi, aka Samurai Jack, I’ll let you figure out where I’ll be quenching my thirst on a warm Sunday morning after church, the next time I’m About Town!

2 Responses to Coconut water for thirst and profit

  1. Cherylann Bourne-Hayes
    Cherylann Bourne-Hayes June 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Cannot wait for my trip to get my fresh coconut water.

  2. Patrick Blackman June 12, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Roadside vending must stop….


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