Baked with National Pride

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.


Pack Your Laptop and Get Out!

Awhile back I wrote about the coffee shop in Santa Monica that has no wi-fi by design.

Now I see in this story that some coffee shops are growing weary of the hobos who camp out all day.

Bad news for those of us who are out here on our own. Guess I'll be spending more time at my kitchen table and drinking my own coffee. 


Making Sense of "Social"

I’m going a little off topic today, but this is still in the category of observation.

How did you learn about the Asiana crash in San Francisco?

Were you on Twitter or Facebook? Did someone mention it during a phone call? Did someone yell it across the room?

Maybe you were watching TV and up popped a bulletin: Breaking News.

Watching the story unfold, I began to form an opinion of this chaotic method of information delivery we call social media.

First, anything is social media in my book. It’s social because we’re sharing information and sharing an experience. And it’s media because there has to be a channel through which the information flows – be it the aforementioned Twitter or television.

Here’s how I found out.

Russ Mitchell, a friend who’s a TV news anchor in Cleveland, posted a Facebook link to KTVU’s live streaming coverage. Not one who regularly watches streaming video on his laptop, I initially bypassed the KTVU link and instead Googled “San Francisco crash” and clicked through bulletins from newspaper web sites. It didn’t matter if the newspaper was in Boston or Baton Rouge or the Wall Street Journal – information is viral and location agnostic.

For the next hour, I searched Twitter using various hashtags – #sfo, #sfocrash, #sfoemergency – and followed the unfolding events through a chaotic series of 140-word blasts. The most arresting tweet was David Eun’s photo of the wreckage, taken minutes after he escaped the plane. Many of these amateur dispatches were speculative, but many were also sourced to various news media. I found myself sampling the early coverage from a broad array of web sites – many retransmitting Eun’s photo and duplicative information.

Fast forward about an hour. I wanted to catch the NTSB’s news conference so I went back and found the link to KTVU’s coverage. At this stage I was invested enough in the coverage to stream live video on my laptop. (Don’t ask me why but I’m averse to watching video on my Samsung Galaxy device.) Either I missed it or it had been postponed. Instead, San Francisco General was holding a media briefing and spokesperson Rachael Kagan was standing before the cameras. As befitting the risks of live TV, KTVU caught her giving a media-only phone number to assembled reporters, on which she promised to record patient updates throughout the evening. A minor error, considering no one at KTVU could possibly know Kagan was going to give the number.

As Kagan patiently answered questions about the conditions the crash victims and the hospital’s readiness to treat them, it occurred to me that I had now put my full faith in the abilities of the KTVU news department. No longer was I sampling via Twitter; I was submitting to a narrative of sorts, being led through the sequence of earlier events and current developments by an anchor in tie and shirtsleeves and a few reporters in the field.

And here’s the thing. It was all social. I was consuming bits of data and images provided by total strangers. I was relying on them to be my eyes and ears. I was even re-tweeting. I tweeted to my modest group of followers that the crash was commanding major attention and suggested they follow some variation of #sfo for the latest.

It occurred to me that when the big story breaks – a plane crash in San Francisco, Christopher Dorner’s “catch me if you can” with the LAPD or a California brush fire – this news consumer still finds value and places his trust in local television. Call me lazy, call me old-fashioned, but when I tire of Twitter or am looking for a different perspective, I still like to have TV thread it all together for me.

I commented on Russ’ post: “They’re doing a good job, IMO.” Minutes later, he agreed. “They really are!” Then someone commented “Us too.” It was Eric Thomas, an anchor at KGO, also in San Francisco. Then Russ posted a link to KGO’s coverage, to which Thomas replied “thanks man.” Some time later another poster thanked Thomas for bringing the story to viewers. Granted, most of us in this thread are newsies or former newsies, but to me it illustrated that television news is still relevant and useful when a big story breaks.

That’s when it’s at its best. And, we were demonstrating that the convergence of media is indeed powerful – using Facebook to promote TV.

Days later my M.O. has changed and I’m reading more accounts from newspaper web sites. Print media can still effectively tie it all up in a bow and is probably more effective at weaving in the more substantive investigative findings. It’s how I learned the pilot only had 43 hours on a 777 and that one of the victims may have been run over by an emergency vehicle. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m often led to the paper’s site by a tweet or Facebook post.

Terrible tragedies bring strangers together. Social media gives us that rush of knowing that others are feeling many of the same feelings and experiencing adrenaline flow. TV – just as much a part of social media – allows us to sit back and let the story wash over us, but in a powerful way with marvelously blended words and sounds and pictures. IMHO.