NEWLY weds and business partners Wendy Tilkaran and her wife, Evita Thomas, not only found love in each other but also in food.
The couple owns Chunkay, a virtual restaurant located in Palm Beach, Florida, USA, serving up Trinidadian cuisine.
Operating for approximately six months, Tilkaran, who is Trinidadian and the chef, says she enjoys showcasing Trinidadian food to its finest.
Thomas, who is also Trinidadian, manages the daily operations of the restaurant.
In an exclusive recent interview with the Express Business, Tilkaran shared what inspired her and her wife to open a restaurant during a time of economic uncertainty while the world grapples with Covid-19.
She said, “I am from Carlsen Field, Chaguanas. I grew up in a very simple hometown on my family’s farm with animals and crops. We mostly ate fresh vegetables and the few yard-raised animals. We would have this every day at mealtime and I was always so happy when my family ate all this wonderful produce together. Growing up seeing and experiencing this at a very young age was so impressive to me, it became the start of my journey into food.”
For the newlyweds, Chunkay is a celebration of love and food. Serving up Trinidadian classics like doubles, geera pork, roti, and corn soup, Tilkaran went a step further to include crafted vegan bowls. The restaurant also serves curried chicken and stews.
Tilkaran said, “Our salmon salads are popular and customers rave about our Trini sorrel drink and desserts like gulab jamon. To add some milky sweetness, I put together plant-based and dairy punches like soursop and pumpkin squash punch. Our menu was created so that foodies—vegan, vegetarian or meat lovers—can have something enjoyable.”
Tilkaran wasn’t always a chef. She worked previously as an officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for 12 years.
She said, “While I worked in the TTPS, on the sideline, I catered numerous Hindu weddings and events for up to 200 persons. With my love for food, it was known that Wendy was ‘the cook’ in the family. I would never turn down a home or river lime where I could chunkay.”
For Tilkaran, the most gratifying thing is to see people enjoy her meals and utilise fresh ingredients.
She said, “My family live in Trinidad. My mom still enjoys planting crops; whenever you can’t find her, you know that she is in the garden.”
Tilkaran’s decade-plus career in the TTPS helped her financially to set aside funds to pursue what she believes is her true calling: a profession in the culinary field.
The self-taught chef said, “In April 2018, I met my beautiful wife Evita on Tinder. My goodness! I fell instantly in love! We connected so well and never spent a day apart until she had to leave to go to Florida in June 2018 because she got her green card. I missed her so much. When she left Trinidad, at that time, I was still employed at the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS). In August 2018, I sent in my resignation as a cop. I sold everything and moved to Florida in April 2019. Evita and I got married on Singer Island in May 2019 in a small, lovely beach wedding.”
For the two lovebirds, the concept for Chunkay sprung up during Covid-19.
Tilkaran said, “Evita was managing her mom’s business in one of the luxury malls here in Palm Beach, Florida, and I was waiting on my green card when Covid-19 happened in March 2020. Evita and I were home, like everyone else, and that is when the idea of Chunkay was born. With Evita’s business and marketing expertise and my passion for cooking, together we grabbed two notebooks and started brainstorming on how we can start our business while making it Covid-friendly. We officially opened our virtual doors on September 18, 2020.”
While Chunkay offers takeout and delivery options, it also has its own proprietary app.
Tilkaran said, “This Progressive Web Application incorporates new technology/software that bypasses the App Store but functions just like an App using the web. It is so cool that you can order doubles and roti via an app.”
What’s it like working with your spouse?
Tilkaran said, “Lol when we are not arguing, her support is fulfilling. Just to know that Evita and I collaborated to make Chunkay means the world to me. I have learned a lot from her about business and we work well together because our goals are the same.”
She said, “Business overall is great, of course, we have our slow days, however, our sales have tripled within the past two months. The response from customers is very encouraging, the support that we get from locals is amazing. We do have some challenges which is natural for a new concept like Chunkay.
“Chunkay is a virtual restaurant. Customers are not allowed inside; pre-orders are placed using our App for kerbside pickup, and delivery using our delivery partners. Like anything new, there is a lot of learning involved for the customer and for us. Our virtual restaurant is located at 2402, North Dixie Highway, in Lake Worth, Florida,” she added.
While Trinidad and Tobago’s borders remain closed, Tilkaran says opening a Chunkay branch back home is one of their five-year goals.
The couple plans on expanding their range of services and will offer to customers catering, meal subscriptions, new dishes, and more.
For more information, you can check them out on social media @chunkayfoods.