Garrett McKellar – Exquisite Local Drinks
Growing up amidst the lush green backdrop of Mount Grace, Providence and Concordia, Tobago, with abundant soil supplies, fresh fruits and vegetables – food is a family event. In the garden and in the kitchen, Garrett McKellar received his first lessons in food. He recalls a favourite childhood memory of making farine (a local grain prepared with grated cassava) with his grandfather. His parents, who are also in the food business, and his aunt Yzanne Williams, a renowned Tobago’s blue food specialist, also helped Garrett embrace a deeper understanding of food and the local vegetation.
He moved to Trinidad after secondary school to study auto mechanics and mechanical engineering at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Upon his return to Tobago, his love of food was ignited. His brother was selling punches for his aunt, so he decided to join him while waiting for a job.
It was a chance event at the Esplanade (Scarborough’s hub for food and entertainment) that influenced the brothers to offer punches for sale, so they quickly came up with the name of Exquisite Local Drinks.
In Tobago, a multitude of fruits and vegetables are produced by small to medium producers. Ingredients are abundant, so much that almost anything can be made into a punch. From Tobago’s fertile soils, diverse vegetation of fig trees, mangoes, pumpkin and various herbs and spices, the go-getting entrepreneur creates beverages with a taste of earthiness and oneness with nature. His milk-based brew comes in a variety of flavours, including Sea Moss and Oats, Pumpkin and Peanut, Peanut and Granola, Beetroot, Guinness and Oats and Dasheen, a Tobago favourite.
Dasheen widely naturalised. The perennial, tropical plant primarily grown as a root vegetable for its edible starchy corm and leaf vegetable. Consumed in African, Oceanic and South Indian cultures it is believed to have been one of the earliest cultivated medicinal plants in the Caribbean. In Tobago, dasheen is also known as coco, taro and tannia. The dasheen is a starchy tuber and is considered a local favourite for its texture and versatility in cooking. Dasheen is often called coco, but coco is actually a slightly smaller relative of dasheen.
The inspiration for Garrett to create drinks is simple; it’s personal. “People tend to associate ‘local’ with sub-standard,” says Garrett. “We want to change this mindset and create products that are above par.” So he listened and gradually started to learn about his customers’ likes and dislikes. Then he learned about taste and consistency.
Garrett enrolled and completed courses in Food and Beverage Operations at the Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute. The education at the institution allowed him to polish his formulations and create his recipes. He conducted formulae effects on lactose intolerants and began to research lifestyle diseases. This allowed him to produce drinks that were not only wholesome but delicious and healthy.
Tobago’s tight-knit and friendly communities were just the right environment for Garrett to thrive as an entrepreneur. Everybody gives you their opinion, and from this feedback, Garrett was able to develop relationships and find his loyal customers.
Apart from punches, the company also manufactures and distributes a decadent coconut rum cream and seasonal sorrel liqueur. In Tobago, everything is a lime, a harvest, and a reason to celebrate. “Rum is consumed at social gatherings, but I wanted to make a drink that you can unwind after work,” remarks Garrett, “it is about taking basic concepts and offering a new taste for people to enjoy and be satisfied.”
With his passion, he is stirring up a new generation of deliciousness and is well on the way to becoming a vital and vibrant voice among Tobago’s young entrepreneurs. He wears many hats and is never afraid to take risks in bringing new standards to local products. He hopes that by his example of manufacturing and distributing quality products, people will gain confidence and understand that local products can be international standards. “I love food and beverage, but I am grateful that I got the chance to study engineering because it gives me a different perspective on everything. I can harness a part of the brain that requires quickly coming with solutions to problems, he says. “I like being innovative and going into directions that others aren’t looking,” says Garrett. “I am versatile. I like what I like.”
He encourages investors to create a strong focus on agro-processing and resources, which will assist in the commercial process on a collaborative scale and allow food entrepreneurs to thrive in an unstable market.
Garrett McKellar – Exclusive Local Drinks
Photo Credits: Reynel Clarke and Exclusive Local Drinks