Is starting up a business during a pandemic insane?

Though the virus has forced so many small businesses in Trinidad and Tobago, and the rest of the world to close their doors, some for good, it did not deter five friends from Central Trinidad, who thought now would be a good time to start a new business venture in food.

With no professional culinary experience and the hope of somehow surviving through the economic slump brought on by the pandemic, Devin Babwah, Richard Sookdeo, Shiva Lochan, and brothers Avinash and Shiva Chandrika decided to open Choka BossTT.

Without a fancy storefront or large commercial-size kitchen, these five friends say though their space is small, they deliver big on flavour.

Located just off the highway coming off the Preysal Flyover, Couva in an open lot, the men launched the food joint on December 14, 2020, naming it after one of the meals they are best known for—choka. Whether baigan, choka, fish, aloo, or even eddoes choka, the guys at Choka Boss TT, say they are giving their customers a taste of home.

While the humble eggplant is featured as a main dish at the food joint, the men serve more than just choka dishes.

Customers can also get stew chicken, fry bodi, murtani, conch, shrimps, saltfish buljol, smoke herring, caraille, shark, and coconut chutney, to name a few. They also do whole wheat and oat sadas for customers wanting more fibre in their diet.

Rolling out meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the men have created a diverse menu.

“We always enjoy creating specials for customers, and giving them something to excite their palates, and hopefully have them coming back for more,” Sookdeo said.

From soup to wild-meat, and a little bit of everything in between, the guys of Choka Boss say they wanted a menu that provided a little something for everyone.

From meat lovers to vegetarians or people just looking for a culinary adventure, we want them to have an experience when they come to Choka Boss, he said.

With their chow mein sandwiches at $5 and veggie and meat sadas at $10 and $15, the foodie friends say providing meals full of flavour on a budget is perfect for their customers, who range from frontline workers to busy moms and truck drivers.

Babwah said, “We chose food because it has been one of the few things that have been able to withstand such a challenging economy.”

Whether you call it sheer luck or a stroke of genius, since opening, it has been busy almost every day for the Choka Boss guys, who provide a full service morning and afternoon.

Open from 6 a.m., the guys would like to provide a 24-hour service, but health restrictions with the pandemic have put that dream on pause.

Babwah said, “Like many non-essential businesses, we were forced to close our doors. With little to no money coming in, and bills piling up, we decided to ban together to ride out this economic storm. We are not just doing it for ourselves, but our families too. Opening a food business was the furthest thing from our minds. For some of us, our bonds of friendship span 15 to 20 years. One of our traditions as a group is to meet up, ‘lime’ and have ah cook almost every weekend. Food has always been the component to bring us together. It was during one of our ‘limes’ we decided to open Choka Boss TT.”

Already struggling to keep their respective businesses in the area of construction, security, and beauty supplies afloat during the pandemic, the men knew it was a risk opening a new business in a tough economic climate on top of Covid-19.

Daunted by the prospect of losing everything, they felt it was better than doing nothing.

Though the business is just in its fledgling stage, they are seeking to build an empire.

With only one location in Couva, ChokaBossTT plans to roll out branches across Trinidad and Tobago.

“We are all equal partners from the front of the house to the back of the house. However, Richard and I do the accounting. Devin does the purchasing and sourcing of produce and meats. Shiva is the chef. Avinash is responsible for the marketing aspect of the business,” Chandrika said.

Embracing local produce, the guys of ChokaBossTT encourage other establishments to do the same and support the local farming community.

“Like other small business owners, we have had to pivot to keep our businesses afloat. None of the old rules applied anymore. As with every other aspect of this coronavirus recession, small business owners have had to adapt to this ever-changing climate in order to be successful,” Babwah said.

As they continue to monitor and observe all Covid-19 guidelines, the men say they are significantly more optimistic about their future situation as they navigate the new-normal as entrepreneurs.

Choka Boss TT also provides curbside pickup and delivery.

For more information call 468-2020.

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