What a Little Patty Can Do Given Hard Work and Ingenuity

If they list the patty as an invention - and why shouldn’t they – this wonder of modern creation would have to rank among the greatest inventions in local food. The Jamaican working man and woman know that, through thick and thin, this crusty little flour and meat delicacy need only be accompanied by a drink to make a filling, nutritious and very affordable lunch. Vincent Chang discovered this quite by accident 40 years ago. 

Today, the family business called Tastee, churning out over 150,000 of the familiar golden-flake patties a day, is a Jamaican institution that is a tribute to hard work and sacrifice, and the ingenuity of a Chinese baker who covered himself in dough, both literally and figuratively. The Tastee story is yet again an enduring tale that is worth telling: of modest beginnings; of the dogged pursuit of a dream; of a husband and wife team that determined in their hearts that they must build something for their children and then their country too. 

While in the United States, Chang had come across the name “Tasty” which was popular then and he adopted it, giving it an island twist, “Tastee”, and remembers thinking rightly that it “had a nice sound to it”. 

Then the genius of Vincent Chang was unleashed. He noticed that Jamaicans had a special liking for the patties. They would line up at lunchtime and wait for long periods to buy the two dozen or so patties sold per day. He started to experiment with the patty, doing things like making the crust flakier, improving on the meat filling and changing the shape and size. For his trouble, the Jamaicans swarmed the little snack shop. They could not get enough of the Tastee patties. Sales of patties made every other item look as if they were not trying and Chang soon realized that he really had something hot on his hands. He rented a bit more space upstairs. After a while, he dropped the other items and concentrated exclusively on patties and drinks, the working man’s lunch. 

Two years after buying the little snack shop in Union Square, from which he was now selling 1,000 patties a day, Chang decided it was time to expand and bought premises with an old house at 25a Half-Way-Tree Road. 

 

A New Way of Making Patties

Chang recognized that the old method of making patties could not handle the growing demand. “We used to do everything by hand so I introduced more equipment and the business really picked up fast,” he says. He did more than just introduce more equipment.

The closest thing to a patty-making machine was the Coulburn pie-filling or apple turnover machine. At Tastee, the shape of the patty was cut by hand and the mince spooned in by women along a moving assembly line. The crust of the patty was crimped with the hand and the edges pressed with a small cutter. The filling was cooked by the old-fashioned method of stirring and keeping a close watch on the boiling cauldron or pot.

All the time, Chang was wondering how he could make the Coulburn work for patties. Then an idea struck him. He would modify the machine so that it could be used to bake patties. He ordered the first such machine, paying US$16,720 for it, saying proudly that it is still in production today. Patty production and sales went through the roof.

Tastee Expands

The company’s growth was staggering. By 1969, Tastee had 40 employees. First the Church Street branch in downtown Kingston. By 1971, with the completion of the new factory at 25a H-W-T Road, Tastee was no longer a small patty establishment. The factory was outfitted with two huge gas-fired industrial ovens, each with capacity to bake 3,228 patties per hour.

By 1973, two more branches were added at Princess Street and Port Royal Street, Kingston. While this was happening, a strong market was developing among schools and wholesalers who were doing a thriving business retailing the patties.

New outlets sprung up at West parade downtown and Constant Spring. Tastee bought additional premises at No 1 Sylvan Avenue which is off the Half-Way-Tree Road and later numbers two and three Sylvan Avenue across the road, which is used today for cold storage and parking lots. In 1991/92, a second story and eating area was added to 25a H-W-T Road. The menu was patties, meat loaves, coco-bread and drinks.

During this phase, the strategic New Kingston branch was opened on Knutsford Boulevard to go after middle-class professionals who worked in the teeming business district. Tastee added fried chicken to the menu at that outlet. It worked like a charm, despite the presence of several popular American fast-food outfits. In 1993, Tastee opened the Orange Street branch downtown. In that same year, the company turned to the rural areas, starting first with a Spanish Town, St Catherine branch, followed by Portmore also in St Catherine. With demand for Tastee patties continuing its relentless climb, Tastee rejiggled the menu, adding vegetable patties, chicken patties, coco-bread fish sandwiches and tuna sandwiches.

The Montego Bay factory was opened in July 2002. From there, the western end of the island is served, covering outlets in Falmouth, Trelawny but also as far away as Ocho Rios and Brown’s Town in St Ann, and in Mandeville. It is also from there that Tastee plans to target more aggressively the overseas market, starting with the larger Caribbean islands, like Trinidad and Tobago.

Tastee is now a multi-million dollar company, employing nearly 1000 employees Island wide. To support that, more than 55,000 bags of flour and tens of thousands of pounds of chicken utilized, driving its benefits deep into the Jamaican economy. Tastee spends over $10 million a year in community services. Commitment to education through numerous scholarships, supporting community homes and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are important to the company.