By Maria Elena Little Endara, Banner correspondent
BENNINGTON — Rachel and Dwayne Hnam have brought a taste of their native Jamaica to Bennington. And so far, Bennington likes what they’re serving up.
On Sept. 5, the Hnams kicked off the start R&D Island Taste at the Bennington Museum courtyard, and were pleasantly surprised with the large turnout. The Caribbean-style flavors were a hit with locals and tourists who at certain points waited for up to an hour to order during the Garlic Town, USA event.
“We were really busy. We actually ran out of food twice,” Dwayne Hnam said. “We had a lot of people. The chicken rice and beans was the most popular dish,” Rachel Hnam added.
The couple previously ran a home-based catering company and love sharing their Jamaican food and culture with Bennington.
“We’re mostly excited people getting to try our food. The most enjoyment I get is when people give us compliments and we know they enjoyed the food,” said Dwayne Hnam.
Both were born in Jamaica, and moved to the U.S. at a young age. Dwayne Hnam was 8 when he moved with his family to Queens, N.Y. Both of them credit their upbringing and heritage for their love of food and cooking.
“In Jamaica eating out is like a treat. It’s very expensive to even go to Burger King or KFC. So cooking was a necessity,” Rachel Hnam said. “I learned to cook as early as 7 or even earlier. You learn to cook rice and chicken and be able to feed your siblings or elderly people.”
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“I started cooking when I was 18 when I went to live by myself and my parents weren’t cooking for me anymore. We started having family barbecues and get-togethers, so I started cooking. I’ve always been cooking for people it’s just a little different now,” said Dwayne Hnam.
The couple moved to Vermont a little over four years ago when Dwayne Hnam was recruited to work as an engineer for MSK Engineering. The lack of diverse cuisine inspired Rachel Hnam to start sharing her food with the town.
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“There’s not a lot of variety of food here in Bennington. What I noticed is that we have a lot of pizza places. I was like, `Maybe people would enjoy something different,'” she said. “There were a lot of people that knew we were Jamaican and said they loved Jamaica. I was amazed by how many people liked the idea of having Jamaican food.”
Despite the geographical distance, she said the landscape reminds her a lot of her home country.
“The farms, the mountains, the rivers remind us of parts of Jamaica. We like it here. We also have some amazing people that are just so friendly and welcoming, and that reminds us of Jamaica,” she said.
Rachel Hnam said that the couple was introduced to the idea of selling their food in the Bennington Museum courtyard after a friend suggested it to them. She thought it was a great idea because of the location and because it provided visitors a way to get great food and explore the museum.
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“I’m really surprised at how many people are receptive to the food too. I was a little nervous at first,” said Dwayne Hnam.
“I said, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to put it out there and see what happens.’ He was like, `Oh, you’re probably going to make too much food,’ but that was not the case,” Rachel Hnam said.
The couple hopes to expand their business but have yet to decide what the future will hold for R&D Island Taste.
“We intend to either brick and mortar or have a food truck. We’re actually just weighing the ideas right now. We’re just not sure what the future holds,” said Dwayne Hnam.
“When we started this, we didn’t know it was going to get to this point. Getting interviewed by the Banner, I’m just so excited to see how our community is supporting us,” said Rachel Hnam.
R&D Island Taste will be serving Jamaican cuisine from the museum courtyard every Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. through Oct. 24. Their menu features a range of traditional food from Jamaican Jerk Chicken sandwiches on Coco bread to chicken, rice and beans.
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