By KAMRYN ELLIOTT
USFSP Student Reporter
GULFPORT – Helena Josephs had worked in three different fields in Jamaica and the United States when – by chance – she wound up in the restaurant and catering business.
For 18 years, she has owned and cooked at Island Flavors and ’Tings, a Jamaican restaurant and market at 1411 49th St. S that is best known for its mango bread.
But it took three career changes and a big move to get there.
Josephs, 63, grew up in Mandeville, Jamaica, and graduated from the University of the West Indies with a mass communications degree specializing in film.
She began a career in TV and film production, then switched to advertising. She was on her way to New York on a business trip when she decided to come to America to work in a new field – real estate.
“I had stopped to see my family in Tampa, and during this visit someone had offered me a job in real estate,” said Josephs.
The exchange rate in Jamaica was very low, she said, and she decided she wanted change and more money.
So Josephs moved to Florida in 1988 to start a career in real estate.
Seven years later, a friend offered to sell his space in a commercial building.
“My friend previously owned the space where my restaurant is, and he decided he wanted to go back to Jamaica. So, he offered to sell it to me and that’s how I started,” said Josephs.
The space sat empty for two years while Josephs continued to work in real estate. Then she finally left the field and started her next career as a business owner and chef.
Initially, it was an island Jamaican grocery store with a small takeout section in the back. Then Josephs transformed it into the restaurant it is now.
Josephs learned how to cook from her mother and uses some of those recipes for her restaurant and catering business. The best-known recipe is her mango bread.
“Cooking just found me. I never went into it and thank god I didn’t have to go to school to be where I’m at, but if I had the chance, I would love to take (cooking) courses,” said Josephs.
She has three chefs – including herself – all of them women, running the restaurant. One works full time and has been with her for 12 years; the other works part time.
“Working with Helena is an enjoyment; I have a good staff and my boss is great,” said Donna Coleman, the full-time chef. “I have been working here since 2007 and I’m glad I came to her.”
There are no greeters or staff to seat customers because the restaurant is set up as a food line. Customers grab what they want and sit down.
Josephs’ restaurant cooks to sell out because the menu is made with fresh ingredients daily. This way of cooking means the closing hours to vary.
“We are a very casual restaurant because we try to make it a Jamaican experience,” said Josephs.
After finding the perfect team for her restaurant, Josephs said, her passion shifted to her catering business, which has been growing the past three years.
The catering company is separate and completely different than Island Flavors and ’Tings. But she still offers Jamaican cuisine if customers choose that theme.
“A lot of people weren’t contacting me about catering because they thought I could only do Jamaican cuisine. So, I decided to build this company that also offers traditional catering to show I can do different types of cuisine,” said Josephs.
Through her years of experience in the culinary world she’s found a balance between running her restaurant and growing her catering business.
“When people tell me they’re going to open a restaurant, I tell them make sure to have that passion because when you find it the whole idea will flow,” said Josephs.