“She does really make you feel like you deh back in school. I does gaffo come here at least two times a week, I just love the syrups,” the woman said to her friend, her eyes firmly fixed on the thick brown tamarind syrup that was being placed in a transparent plastic bag. The friend nodded as she ordered pickled dunks that were also placed in the same type of plastic bag before they walked away, two happy customers.
They had just made purchases from Wendy’s Old School Sweet Treats part of Wendy and Damian’s Finger Licking Corner located at the corner of Regent and King streets.
“I sell all the things people use to buy when they were children in school and they just love it,” Wendy Wilson, who owns the business along with her partner Damian Clarke, told the Sunday Stabroek.
This reporter was on spot to see the number of customers (old and young) who flooded the corner placing order after order. And even though Wilson had an assistant, she attempted to personally serve all of the customers, even if it was just asking if they were satisfied.
“I really love my customers. They does give me the money yeah, but I like to keep them happy and sometimes they would come for something and I would introduce them to something else and they would latch on to it,” she later told this newspaper.
And even though at times she would have one or two persons working with her she does not stand around idly. According to her, “I move faster, and I don’t like my customers waiting so I would always be on my foot once I around.”
“You buy duh from the woman at the corner?” a woman asked me, eying the large tamarind ball in my hand as I walked down Regent Street. And when I nodded, she added, “She does really mek you feel like you back in school”. I smiled in agreement. I knew the woman was one of Wilson’s satisfied customers.
Wilson shared that the business has helped her to evolve, as prior to it she could have been considered an introvert but now she interacts more with people and not just customers but other business persons.
“I didn’t like going out too much in the public. But now I interact more with people and I would meet all kinds of people and take a lot of advice from them. And I am always mindful how I talk to my customers; I try to always be nice. I like them because they give me money,” she acknowledged.
She pointed out that since she works six days a week—her partner works seven days a week—her regular customers have become like family.
It was Wilson’s daughter’s illness that propelled her to start the business 12 years ago. She recalled that she had been working in a clothing store on Regent Street for some 17 years. Her wages combined with her partner’s was not enough to take care of the family and she decided to start selling in the afternoon.
“It started out just as a little tray with sweets and cigarettes and a lil cooler with drink. But is after my daughter get sick and I had to keep running to the hospital all time and you know it get hard to work. I had to leave and we really start with the business,” she revealed.
“And is so we start, we start getting a lil egg ball and channa and so and as people come and ask for things we keep adding and it keep getting bigger.”
Later they purchased a glass case as according to her she was “determined to elevate myself” and it was the comments of customers that inspired the name of the business. “People would always say that the things remind them of school days or back in the days and you know people from overseas would order and take back and when there is a show I would go there too and sell and you should see the excitement and that keeps me going.”
Today the business has evolved into more than one stall at the corner, laden with an assortment of finger-licking snacks, some like the chips and colourful sweets are in individual packages while others like the syrups and pickles are in large transparent containers.
“Everything is made healthy. The containers are sterilized. We only use distilled water and the fruits are all washed and cleaned,” Wilson said.
Initially, Wilson made everything herself but as the business grew she was forced to get help.
“But I still make the syrups and pickles myself because I have a secret ingredient that I don’t want anybody to take,” she said with a small laugh adding that she also makes the juices, as she wants to control how they are made.
The fudge is also made by Wilson. “The fudge is always sold out. First, I use to make one pan a day, now I make ten pans a day and still I would have go back home in the afternoon and make some more, it is never enough,” she marveled. “And you know everything is local, not imported.”
While she does not rejoice in the fact that her child was ill, Wilson said she was happy that it propelled her to become an independent business owner.
While she has faced many struggles and still does, Wilson said she would have it no other way. She wakes at four o’clock every morning to prepare and in the afternoons when she gets home, she preps for the next day.
“I try as best as I can to make things every day because my customers don’t like left over things. All like the syrup, some of them would come in and feel the containers to see if it hot. There are a few things that would roll over you know like the sweets and so on, but I don’t make plenty at one time for it to be around long,” she said.
Wilson was born in Ituni, Berbice River but she shared that her mother, who by then had 11 children, later migrated, leaving her and some of her siblings in the care of an aunt on the West Coast Berbice.
Her aunt was a vendor at a school and Wilson was thus introduced to making the school snacks as she always liked to cook and clean. She moved to Georgetown at the age of 18 when she became pregnant and shared a common-law relationship with her then partner. She did a few courses before she started to work full-time.
Opting not to go into details, Wilson said she really had a “tough time but I am happy that things are better now.
“It was really tough. I have moved on. I have had it hard, it is not that I don’t work hard now, but it was harder then. And that is why I say to people when you see some people getting up and being successful don’t envy them, you don’t know where they started from to get there.”
She noted that one just has to keep going in spite of the difficulties one might face and one must ensure that the foundation one builds does not sink when faced with further hardships.
“We know where we want to go and where we want to reach. We take some time off, take some rest and recreation,” she said of herself and Clarke.
Now a mother of five, she said her children are the most important persons in her life.
“I love kids. I adore my children. When it comes to their education I want the best for them. I give to my children the love and attention I was looking for when I was a child. Just what I was looking for, I now shower them with it. I don’t want them looking back regretting, or wishing they had this or that. I give them things that they need, I put their education first,” she said.
Her eldest has just completed a degree in mechanical engineering and the second had just completed sixth form at Queen’s College and hopes to acquire a scholarship to further her studies in medicine. The three younger ones are still in school.
She boasted that she does all the “picking up of my children and then they come and spend time at the stall and do their homework and so and when we go home I ensure they have their baths and dinner and so on and then big daughter would take over.”
Even as she pushes for her children to get the best education, Wilson also wants to further hers, and as such she hopes to pursue business management come September. And even though it is a far cry from law, which she had dreamed of pursuing while she was a child, she noted that it is just want she needs to expand her business.