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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Ardour for Jamaican tradition, social justice leads Somers ‘proper right here’ | Native Information

Gail Somers is fairly comfortable proper right here.

The 43-year-old Keene resident has labored onerous to get right here, too, rising up in rural Jamaica earlier than coming to the U.S. as a university scholar, incomes two levels and launching a profitable profession within the meals enterprise.

“Right here” for Somers is her downtown Keene restaurant, Yahso Jamaican Grille, a reputation that interprets from the island’s Patois language as — you guessed it — “proper right here.”

“So it’s an emphasis on a spot, … calling consideration to that place,” Somers mentioned. “So for me, yeah, we’re serving meals, however I prefer to assume we’re serving tradition, as effectively.”

For Somers, Yahso is not only a restaurant, however a cultural hub the place she often invitations Caribbean musicians to play and shares her Jamaican tradition by way of genuine dishes, a lot of that are made utilizing her mom’s recipes.

“And particularly in southwest New Hampshire, the place we don’t have that a lot variety, I prefer to assume I’m including to the material of variety locally,” Somers mentioned.

Her dedication to variety and inclusion extends past the restaurant, too. Somers serves on Keene’s advert hoc Racial Justice and Group Security Committee and chairs the Keene Household YMCA’s Social Justice Committee. This summer season, she mentioned, she’ll even be working with the Higher Keene & Peterborough Chamber of Commerce on a number of variety, fairness and inclusion initiatives.

This work is very essential, Somers mentioned, in mild of the renewed racial justice motion that started final summer season after George Floyd’s homicide by Minneapolis police.

“And it’s essential that it simply doesn’t fan out, and the flame dies,” she mentioned. “… The larger problem is that Black and Brown persons are nonetheless feeling very marginalized, and we have to speak about these issues.”

Catherine “Catt” Workman, a Keene metropolis councilor who works with Somers on the town’s racial justice committee, mentioned Somers brings a recent perspective and inventive concepts to the group.

“She’s very diplomatic, and is ready to specific herself very articulately,” Workman mentioned. “Even with the subject material, it wasn’t at all times the simplest conversations that we had been having and discussing, and he or she at all times introduced the committee collectively.”

Somers was instrumental in drafting the committee’s report back to the Metropolis Council, Workman added. The 11-page doc outlines suggestions for a way the neighborhood can handle racism, together with looking for extra various staff in public businesses and rising racial-bias coaching and consciousness efforts.

“I bear in mind wanting ahead to the opening of the restaurant simply because it was going so as to add variety and enhance restaurant choices for folks,” Workman mentioned, including that she eats there “simply about two occasions per week, if no more,” and that Yahso’s Caribbean shrimp and candy plantains are amongst her favourite dishes.

Workman’s expertise at Yahso is exactly what Somers envisioned for the restaurant, which she launched along with her now 22-year-old son Andre Clayton after they spent a number of years sharing Jamaican dishes with family and friends at neighborhood gatherings.

“It was an enormous deal as a result of we wished to have a special meals domestically, as effectively, and for us, we felt like this is able to be nice to share with the world,” Somers mentioned. “Most individuals, even when they haven’t had Jamaican meals, know Jamaica or know of the Jamaican tradition round meals.”

This tradition, Somers added, is the one wherein she grew up in Port Antonio, Jamaica, a metropolis of about 12,000 folks on the island’s northeastern coast. Her father, Keith Somers, labored primarily as a banana farmer, whereas her mom, Bertine, ran a small grocery store.

“So from a really younger age, having a dad that was a farmer and a mother that ran slightly enterprise, I feel undoubtedly these issues contributed to my entrepreneurial spirit,” she mentioned.

And although Bertine Somers died 23 years in the past, she continues to affect her daughter’s life and profession. Because the oldest of 12 youngsters, Bertine realized to prepare dinner at a younger age, and later grew to become the first prepare dinner for her personal youngsters.

“And rising up, she simply at all times positioned that emphasis on making us a great meal, even once we didn’t have so much,” Somers mentioned. “So we didn’t do massive Christmas celebrations or birthday celebrations. However Sunday dinner was an enormous deal. … It was form of her approach of displaying love and caring.”

This expression of affection by way of meals additionally prolonged past their instant household, Somers added. At any time when households got here into Bertine Somers’ store unable to afford meals, she would discover a method to give them a great meal.

“So for me, even at a youthful age, I knew that meals was a lot about safety, as a result of I felt safe and I felt liked,” Gail Somers mentioned. “I felt safe as a result of my mother and father at all times had meals, and took such care in getting ready the meals. I felt virtually as a result of my dad had a farm, we had that little grocery store, and my mother was at all times getting ready nice meals for us. And we might see folks coming that simply didn’t have that, and I noticed the emphasis my mother positioned on sharing one thing with them.”

Somers’ mom additionally prioritized schooling, which led Gail to pursue a university diploma in enterprise, first on the College of Know-how within the Jamaican capital of Kingston earlier than transferring to Philadelphia, the place she had some prolonged household, within the Nineties and learning at Villanova College. She took lessons part-time, and in addition labored as a server at varied eating places, together with many fast-food joints.

“I feel I’ve labored in each fast-food [restaurant],” she mentioned with a smile. “There have been occasions I used to be working at a number of fast-food [restaurants]. I would go away Burger King and go to McDonald’s for an additional shift, or Wendy’s. I’ve labored at all of them.”

After graduating along with her bachelor’s diploma in finance, Somers acquired a job with Bimbo Bakeries, which makes manufacturers together with Entenmann’s and Thomas English Muffins. She labored there for about 10 years whereas dwelling within the Philadelphia space and New Jersey. Alongside the best way, she earned her MBA from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia earlier than transferring to Keene in 2013 for a job at C&S Wholesale Grocers.

This new profession alternative motivated the transfer, Somers mentioned, however she has since fallen in love with the neighborhood, the place her youthful son, 16-year-old Alex Clayton, had a terrific expertise at Symonds Elementary Faculty and Keene Center Faculty earlier than shifting to Northfield Mount Hermon Faculty in Gill, Mass., for highschool. Her father and her brother Keino Somers have each moved to Keene, as effectively.

“And I form of made a private connection to the world, coming from rural Jamaica,” she mentioned. “So regardless that I’ve lived in additional city areas, I form of nonetheless really feel like I’m a rural lady.”

After seven years with C&S, Somers left the corporate final June to focus full-time on the restaurant. She mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced her with quite a few troublesome choices, none more difficult than whether or not to shut Yahso, or transfer to a brand new location.

“And I made a decision to not name it quits,” she mentioned. “We had carried out very well. I feel the idea was acquired very well. I knew I wanted a much bigger house, as a result of we had been in a teeny-tiny house, particularly to showcase the tradition, as a result of there’s simply a lot to it — the meals, the music, the entire simply Jamaican vibe.”

And as extra folks get vaccinated towards COVID-19, Somers hopes companies like hers return to pre-pandemic operations. Within the long-term, she needs to open a second Yahso location, maybe in Manchester or Nashua, or perhaps Brattleboro, she mentioned.

For now, although, Somers plans to remain proper right here.

“We’re hoping that when folks come right here, they’re getting a great meal however they’re additionally getting a great vibe being right here,” she mentioned. “So, Yahso in Jamaica, it’s like any individual would say it’s a hopping, popping, fashionable [spot] — the place the place issues are taking place.”

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