“Black History Month is a time to reflect on the many positive impacts the Black community has made, not only in the country we live in, but globally.” – Opal Rowe, Founder and Owner
Stush Patties of Toronto, Ontario has been named one of three winners of Purolator’s True North Small Business Grant Contest 2021. Owner Opal Rowe’s gourmet Jamaican patties are lovingly and proudly made from natural and locally-sourced ingredients.
She started her growing patty business just before Canada was struck with lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, in spite of it all, she forged ahead. Rowe initially catered a few weddings and parties, and eventually transitioned to selling the patties wholesale to cafes and groceries. Stush Patties are now available in 30 locations in six cities, and can be also found at pop-up operations in Toronto. She plans to use her grant money to expand her small business operations even further.
Rowe, who is originally from Kingston, Jamaica but has lived in Canada for 20 years, taught herself to make the iconic patties, believing it was her mission to introduce the tasty classic to more diners. Here she talks about her inspiration, health and wellness, celebrating Jamaican Patty Day, the importance of Black History Month and more.
Do you have any memories of patties from your childhood?
Patties were one of the food staples at school cafeterias, or canteens, for lunch. They really were a non-event, something you didn’t really give much thought to. I didn’t have patties outside of school because there weren’t many patty shops at the time… just a few large bakeries, and they were never sold at grocery stores.
What inspired you to start Stush Patties?
One night a few years ago, I came home and wanted something warm, delicious and somewhat healthy, to enjoy with a glass of wine. I had an intense craving for a Jamaican patty so I went on the hunt to find something that would feel like a satisfying meal, with real meat, and not a greasy snack. I couldn’t find one, so I made one!
In your opinion, what makes Stush Patties superior to others?
As it was really a chicken patty I was craving that night, my first thought was to make a patty with chicken rather than beef that I could bite into. It also occurred to me that the vegetable patties available often contained meat products and the brands in retail didn’t have a vegan option. Being a lover of natural foods, including vegetables, I wanted to have a few options for vegetable fillings. So in addition to our regular vegetable patties, each summer we team up with local farmers to bring fillings that are farm to table.
This year’s Black History Month focuses on health and wellness. How strong is the connection of food to health and wellness?
I’m very passionate about food. I love everything about food, the look, smell and taste. There is nothing more satisfying to me than going to the market and shopping for the daily meal. Food gives most people enormous pleasure, but its purpose is primarily for health and wellness, which is why it’s a necessity. With the abundance of food today, the impact of science and our love for art, we don’t often think of food in this light.
Do you have tips to share with those pursuing a better level of health and wellness?
I am generally not one who has a freezer full of food. I love to be inspired by what’s available in the market, foods that are in season, and creating a meal from that. I particularly have a strong affinity for natural foods and so I almost exclusively shop on the periphery of the supermarket and never the centre aisles. For me, natural is not just about reading labels to ensure that very little non-food item is in my food, it is avoiding anything made in factory. There is no place in my kitchen for factory made ketchup and BBQ sauce — I make my own mayonnaise and salad dressing on demand.
I have always loved natural food but I became acutely aware of what processed foods entails when I worked for one of Canada’s largest food manufacturers and since then it was a more conscious decision. I just found it easier to avoid packaged foods. When I decided to make patties, it was important to me that I would make something that I would eat to benefit my health and wellness, and that meant using simple ingredients.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
For me, Black History Month is a time to reflect on the many positive impacts the Black community have made, not only in the country we live in, but globally. For the most part, Blacks are generally seen as immigrants. Many people are unaware that Blacks have been a part of Canadian history for centuries. Regardless of whether a Black person is Canadian by birth or naturalized, we too have played a role in Canada being the country it is today, but generally our contributions have been ignored or untold. Black History Month is a time when Black people can feel like their contribution matters and for others to acknowledge and reflect on these contributions. My hope is that there will be a time when there is no Black History Month because our contributions and history will be woven into the general history with no less importance than any other race.
Tell us about the recent Jamaican Patty Day Taste Challenge you hosted.
That was a lot of fun! Just in time for Jamaican Patty Day, we conducted a taste challenge with some of our friends from Purolator, who were blindfolded and asked to guess the flavours in different varieties of Stush Patties. Then we named our top patty connoisseur. I think the challenge shows that people really can taste the difference fresh ingredients make.
Watch the Jamaican Patty Day Taste Challenge here:
Speaking of fresh flavours, what’s your favourite?
This is a difficult question as one of my staff reminds me, my favourite filling changes often, and eventually they all get a turn at being my favourite. At first I wasn’t t into the beef because I have had beef patties all my life and I now have five other options to choose from. However, lately I have been really enjoying the beef because they are not like other beef patties I have had. I can taste the beef, which is grass-fed, and it’s full of flavour, not just from the spices used but also from the caramelization of the meat.
Where can patty lovers find Stush Patties?
Stush Patties is available in eateries like cafes and deli shops in southern Ontario. We are growing rapidly, and our aim is to spread across more of the province by the end of the year and expand nationally in the near future, especially with the help of the grant money. A full list of locations can be found on our website.
Black-owned businesses throughout Canada are important to the vibrancy of our communities. If you have a craving for delicious fare, celebrate Jamaican Patty Day all year by grabbing a patty (or two, or three patties) at a Caribbean restaurant in your neighbourhood.