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Tropical Caribbean Offers a Taste of Jamaica

Sanford’s newest retail store is helping to bring the flavor of the islands to southern Maine. Tropical Caribbean opened in December at the Mid-Town Mall with imported Jamaican groceries, including a wide variety of seasoning blends, soup mixes, canned goods, snacks and drinks. The store also offers produce, frozen fish and meats, and freshly baked goodies.

Owner Gillian Gordon, a native of Jamaica, originally thought of opening a restaurant, but the startup costs were too great. She began baking for friends, who encouraged her to offer other authentic Jamaican foods. She found a source for banana chips in Connecticut, and made trips back and forth from her home in Biddeford, gradually expanding her stock with additional items.

After deciding to open a retail business, Ms. Gordon worked seven days a week to save enough money to open her first location, on Route 1 in Wells. After the store opened in August of 2016, she continued working a full-time job while running the store in the evenings.

The Wells store was the first of its type in York County. In addition to catering to immigrants from Caribbean and African countries, and Americans who enjoy island cuisine, the business offers a taste of home to the many temporary workers who come from Jamaica each summer to work in hotels along the seacoast.

From the beginning, she planned for a second location in Sanford, which has a larger year-round population of Caribbean and African residents than does Wells. She found her ideal location at the Mid-Town Mall next to Carte Blanche Boutique. Ms. Gordon is running both locations with help from her sister and daughter in Wells, and friend Jody Carter here in Sanford.

The biggest-selling items at the store by far are the jerk seasonings, she says. Other popular items include ackee, a savory canned fruit that is cooked with salt fish to make Jamaica’s national dish; soup mixes including chicken and pumpkin; and Tastee Cheese, which is eaten with sweet buns at Easter time. Coconut milk, which is used in many Jamaican recipes, can be purchased canned, creamed or powdered. Fresh coconuts are available too.

Other fresh and frozen foods the store stocks include parrot fish, king fish and red snapper; chicken feet, cow skin and goat meat; vegetables including yams and chocho, a type of squash; and plantains, cousins of bananas that are often fried.

Mountain Peak instant coffee, a variety of herbal teas and Jamaican soft drinks are available to quench your thirst. The store also stocks some American products, including Red Bull and Arizona energy drinks.

The Sanford location is more spacious than the Wells store, and Ms. Gordon hopes to diversify the business later this year with a small in-store café offering coffee, tea and sandwiches. She plans to keep adding to the store’s retail line as well, and hopes to have alcoholic beverages in stock by summer.

Tropical Caribbean is open Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday.

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