Willie and Shirley Douglas raised five boys near Koreatown. It was a hardscrabble existence – coming to LA from Jamaica by way of Florida and New York. Willie was an industrious guy. Always a self-starter, full of ambition. Got his Master’s in Sociology from Cal State-Dominguez Hills at night while building a property management business by day. Yep, apartments. Buying, fixing up, renting, flipping occasionally for a larger property.
It’s a long way from Ocho Rios, Jamaica to LA. But many have made the journey; there’s a significant Jamaican population here.
Willie's son Reginald wants to capitalize on our fascination with and love of things Jamaican. Having inherited his dad’s passion, Reginald crisscrosses the city in his bright blue Honda Civic, peddling a trunk full of wares. Tirelessly hawking his bagels, cream cheese and bagel chips with an uncommon flair and unwavering smile.
But these aren’t bagels, Reginald exclaims.
“They’re Jamagels,” he says, drawing out the word, as in “jahhh-MAYYY-gel.”
|Reginald shows his wares from the trunk of his Honda.|
Bagels infused with the flavors of Jamaica. Using spices like ginger, nutmeg, vanilla. Or pimento, cloves, allspice, garlic and onions. Or raisins, cinnamon and malt syrup. Six kinds of bagels and five flavors of cream cheese – even one that’s Jerk flavored, with spice extracted from the Scotch bonnet pepper, found only the Caribbean.
This guy has found his calling. For years he was a graphic designer, selling t-shirts to retailers at trade shows. He’ll tell you custom t-shirts should have no more than two colors. Any more than two and they look … well, tacky. (My word. We’ve all owned a few of those.)
But the fashion biz started wearing thin.
“It’s always looking ahead a year and if you don’t have a fresh idea every three months, well …” Reginald says.
So, how did this second-generation Jamaican from central LA become interested in food?
“Because I’m a creative person,” he says. “My mind is constantly working. I went back and forth six or seven months on this idea. Should I do it or not?”
Then, like a true entrepreneur, he just did it. Started cold calling bakeries around town, pitching his idea. Would they be willing to test produce some bagels, mix different spices in them? Reginald got lots of rejection, but what entrepreneur isn’t used to rejection?
Finally, he found a baker willing to give his idea a shot. Brooklyn Bagels in downtown LA agreed to the plan, but it would be expensive. In order to get a reliable sample, they’d have to bake 13 dozen. If the first one wasn’t precisely right, they’d throw out the rest.
Lots of testing and tweaking and months later, Reginald gave birth to the Jamagel. Brooklyn Bakery has been making them for 2 ½ years.
The name Jamagel is trademarked. A combination of Jamaica and bagel, but “Jabagel” didn’t roll off the tongue, says Reginald. However, changing just one letter and he found the lyrical name that conjures images of swaying palm trees and crystal blue shores.
“When you say Jamaica, everyone loves Jamaica. Everyone loves Bob Marley. Even if they’ve never been there. So I said ‘How can I come up with a product that people will eat every single day?’ People eat bagels every single morning.”
True, with food, not much changes because we are creatures of habit. Reginald is hoping to tap into that. But first, you have to encourage trial.
So, like every good marketer, Reginald built a web site and a Facebook page and launched a Twitter account. He spends his day pitching locally-owned grocers and doing in-store demos. I met Reginald at Rainbow Acres in Marina del Rey one evening. Almost walked past him as he called out to me. But there was something about that infectious smile and attitude that brought me back. Reginald pitched, a little breathlessly, and I listened.
You know that feeling, when someone is trying to sell you something on the spot? You think, “what is this guy doing and what am I getting myself into?” That was me. I sampled some cream cheese, made mindless conversation, then said goodnight and walked to my car. Then, I doubled back, asked for his card and said I’d like to talk more about his little enterprise.
About a week later, we met for coffee. He had just come from a meeting that didn’t materialize. His appointment was a no-show. But Reginald doesn’t know disappointment and rejection, so he gladly sat with me, sipped ice water and told his story.
He said he’s the only person in his family with the food fascination.
“Jamaicans all know how to cook and cook for themselves so we usually don’t think of food as a commercial pursuit,” he said.
Reginald is looking for financing because, while several stores have bought his products, he has ambitious growth plans and has to pay that baker and the dairy that produces his cream cheese.
Several months ago I was having breakfast with a former Disney executive – talking about life and global issues and business.
“What’s the first thing you think when you think of California?” he asked me.
“Well, my opinion is, to be honest, I think it’s lost a step,” I said, referring to the sagging economy, unemployment and companies’ unwillingness to locate here because of taxes and regulation.
“Yes. But, California has something you won’t find anywhere else,” he countered.
And then, very eloquently, my friend described the budding creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that courses through the veins of the Golden State. It’s characterized by boldness, desire and an uncompromising belief in one’s ideas. Never giving up, always eager to wake up every morning and see what opportunities lie ahead.
This spirit is everywhere. You can’t deny it. I certainly found it in Reginald Douglas – the Jamagel Man.
As I waved goodbye and walked away, Reginald called to me: “Don’t have a good day. Don’t have a great day. Have a Jahhh-MAYY-gel day! See, I made you smile!”
Maybe, just maybe, this entrepreneur will make it work by winning people’s hearts and taste buds.
Best place to learn more or place an order is www.jamagel.com.