August 11, 2012

Cricket in the USA

A treat for fans off the field

Peter Della Penna
The crowd outside Joy's Roti Delight, Florida, August 10, 2012
A crowd outside Joy's Roti Delight  © Peter Della Penna
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This weekend in south Florida, a pair of Twenty20 matches will be held at the Central Broward Regional Park between Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence for each nation. While there will be a festive atmosphere on the field and in the stadium, the party won’t be contained there exclusively. It is sure to spill into the local community. Two businesses that contribute heavily to the atmosphere of such events are Bedessee Sporting Goods & Imports and Joy’s Roti Delight.

Nawshad “Chubb” Bedessee, a middle-aged immigrant from Guyana, owns and runs stores in New York and Toronto while his brother operates a sister store out of Lauderhill, Florida, literally just across the street from the Central Broward Regional Park. Bedessee Sporting Goods is the largest distributor of cricket equipment in the western hemisphere.

Anyone at the CBRP who wanted to get decked out in West Indies kit at the pair of T20s held earlier this summer against New Zealand to kick off their tour in Florida would’ve bought their maroon shirts from one of the many Bedessee stalls set up on site. According to Chubb, he took in 40 shipments of merchandise in the days leading up to the event to make sure there was enough on hand to satisfy all the fans who wanted to show their support for a team most of them had gone years without being able to see in person. It was a family affair for Bedessee, with about 50 relatives – including brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins and in-laws flying in from Texas, Ohio, Washington, New York and Canada – on hand working behind the counter at each stall to help things flow smoothly.

Remarkably, though, Bedessee says that sporting goods only account for a small fraction of his operation, which has been around since 1977. Not every West Indian expat in the USA plays or watches cricket, but just about all of them are keen for a taste of foods and products they grew up with. “Our main business is our import of Caribbean foods and other ethnic products from around the world,” Bedessee says. “That’s probably more than 95% of my business.”

While Bedessee’s import business allows people to buy products they can take home to eat and cook with, others need to get their fix of fresh made West Indian food on the spot. One doesn’t need to go very far, just 100 yards across the parking lot from Bedessee’s shop, for a restaurant with a cult following: Joy’s Roti Delight. While Bedessee’s web site touts, “We are in your kitchen more than you think,” Joy’s has been the “Home Away from Home” since 1992 for many Caribbean expats living in south Florida.

Upon taking a step into Joy’s you are immediately met by the ear-splitting beats of soca and reggae tunes reverberating from the speakers and televisions hanging high on the walls of the modest sized eatery with high ceilings. The conversations by customers are almost as loud and just as lively as they wait to order their roti to go along with goat curry, chicken curry, oxtail or vegetables, just a few of the favoured combinations for the lunchtime crowd when the place is at its busiest with lines sometimes stretching out the door.

On the morning of the first West Indies Twenty20 match against New Zealand, Chris Dubra and three of his friends drove four hours straight from Tampa on the west coast to arrive in Lauderhill on the east coast by early afternoon in time for the game. The first place the crew stopped to get out of the car and stretch their legs – as well as grab a bite to eat and down a couple of beers – was Joy’s.

The Bedessee stall at the Central Broward Regional Park, Florida, August 10, 2012
The Bedessee stall at the Central Broward Regional Park  © Peter Della Penna
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“This is one of the best places. We always come here if we want roti. The food is good, the West Indian food… well not West Indian food, Trinidadian food,” Dubra says before laughing with his buddies. “If you have good food, you’ll get a lot of people to come by. This is our culture.”

So what’s the best time to get food at Joy’s? “When you get hungry!” one of his friends chimes in. Talking with other people in the crowd, there are a few locals who claim they go to Joy’s seven days a week and it’s hard to doubt them.

Later that night, the sidewalk outside Joy’s is humming with activity. A DJ cranks up the volume on the soca beats coming out of the amps set up nearby while fans dance in the middle of the parking lot. A set of drums is stationed nearby and three gentlemen take turns adding rhythmic sounds for the crowd. One particularly liquored-up individual can’t stop gyrating to the clanging of the drumsticks. The only ones not shaking their hips are the people standing in line, completely focused on getting their roti.

While it might be on a smaller scale than six weeks ago, this weekend will be another cricket carnival to please the fans in the Jamaican and Trinidadian expat communities of south Florida. But it’s not just the fours, sixes and wickets that will make the event whole. It wouldn’t be the same without the contributions from local businesses like Bedessee’s and Joy’s. The role they play off the field on a day-to-day basis makes the overall spectacle around the cricket truly authentic.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

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