Jamaica: Revolutionary Restaurant… On Wheels

Keteis 'Oyunde' Brisett and lfred 'Ibby' Brissett outside the truck that houses the kitchen for their Veggie Meals on Wheels business. - Photo by Mel Cooke

By Mel Cooke | The Gleaner

Keteis 'Oyunde' Brisett and lfred 'Ibby' Brissett outside the truck that houses the kitchen for their Veggie Meals on Wheels business. - Photo by Mel Cooke

It is not surprising that tyres are heavily involved in the operations of a restaurant named Veggie Meals on Wheels.

However, over 250 – most of then painted in bright colours and some cut to make a pointed pattern – exceeds all expectations.

Alfred ‘Ibby’ Brissett and Keteis ‘Oyunde’ Brissett give discarded tyres one final turn at usefulness, utilising them in innovative ways at their Regal Plaza, Cross Roads, St Andrew, vegetarian eatery. The rubber rings of various sizes form the base of a cistern, lay down the hint of a walkway, housing for an umbrella, create steps to the kitchen – housed in an old truck body – and mount a lighting fixture. Where necessary, concrete is used to fill in the tyres.

Keteis 'Oyunde' Brissett washes her hands at a cistern made from stone-filled tyres.

This is in addition to their using tyres for the long-established use of planting flowers, which they are extending from Veggie Meals on Wheels to nearby areas of the plaza and the street. They also plant aloe vera, coconut and callaloo in the tyres, but only for aesthetics as the foodstuff planted in tyres is not eaten.

And still there could be more, as Keteis shows The Sunday Gleaner sketches for reusing tyres to make bar shelves, a speaker box stand, speaker housing, a bookstand, water fountain and even a swimming pool.

“We believe in reuse over recycle. Both of them are effective in getting rid of pollution, but with recycling you still have to use energy and machines,” Alfred said.

Using the tyres serves another purpose as well, Veggie Meals on Wheels’ mobility – but again, not in the way that probably immediately comes to mind, driving around to serve meals. “Everything here can be moved,” Keteis said.

Now the business is at the hub of a tyre motif, including a clock shaped like a tyre which they found in a store.

The prices have changed, but this menu mounted in a tyre base is kept at Veggie Meals on Wheels for nostalgia.

Finding a wagon

Mobility was paramount when the couple, once part of the Livity Restaurant set-up which was at Hope Road and then Haining Road in New Kingston, created Veggie Meals on Wheels. Alfred said “because of our experience in business over the years when we had to move, we did not want a location where we would have to relocate”.

“We decided on a wagon,” Keteis said.

The body of a U-Haul truck was spotted on Slipe Road two years ago, about to be cut up and shipped out of Jamaica in the then booming scrap metal business. Most of the refurbishing to make it into a mobile kitchen was done there and, on a chassis and tyres bought elsewhere, it was moved to Regal Plaza and Veggie Meals on Wheels was born. While there is no engine currently in the Veggie Meals on Wheels kitchen, Alfred points out that it can easily be towed away. Another, smaller, wagon is used to serve drinks.

As they started to beautify the open-air restaurant with plants, another kind of mobility affected them and led to the heavy tyre use. The potted plants they brought from home started to disappear. They already were using tyres to plant flowers at home and figured they would be less likely to be stolen at Veggie Meals on Wheels. They have not been.

Then, Alfred said, “one thing led to another. The availability of tyres is enormous. They (tyre shops) are throwing away tyres every day. When I pull up to some shops they are glad to see me”. He pointed out that tyres of different composition are put to specific uses. Tyres with wire, for example, are used “for the base if you are doing something big. It is dynamics within the construction”.

Both are students at the International University of the Caribbean (IUC), Keteis in media and communication and Alfred in theology. Keteis was given a school project, choosing environment over crime and violence and technology. After some online research, she produced the sketches.

“I said I was going to sit down and create a concept around the tyre thing. We did not just want to utilise it ourselves. We wanted people to know about it, how to deal with the whole pollution,” Keteis said. “We are here with limited resources and limited funds. We use what we have.”

With a variety of tyres, from truck to toy, already part of Veggie Meals on Wheels, the couple is looking at putting more tyres to their originally intended use in the business. “As we look to forward planning, we would like to have a group of wagons on the road,” Keteis said.

And Alfred pointed out “most people say ‘going green’. We say ‘been green’, because we are green already”.