Mr. Mark's Caribbean flavours had a long road before they came to Penticton

Local serves spice of life

"Okanagan Inspired" is a weekly series of articles offering a peek into the stories and inspirations of Pentictonites who hold creative roles in the community.

Originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica, Mark Mudahy of Mr. Mark's Caribbean Foods has made a big name for himself locally.as Mr. Mark.

Growing up in Jamaica, Mr. Mark explains, "Everyone used to go hunting and fishing, and I was the worst hunter and the worst fisher, but my skill was that I could cook up anything they would catch.”

He learned a lot from his nanny.

“My nanny was an amazing cook, my mom, not so good,” says Mr. Mark laughing. “She taught me how to cook. I still remember my first dish ever. I was probably only 10 or 11, but I made curried spam over rice."

At the age of 19, Mr. Mark got accepted into the University of Winnipeg for computer programming and made the move to Canada. “I only worked in computer programming for a very short time, but I hated it. It wasn’t for me, so I worked as an auditor for around 10 years,” says Mr. Mark.

While in Winnipeg, Mr. Mark came into his own, and explored his creativity in new ways.

“I was flat broke, and I designed an automotive device for when you plug your car in when there is cold weather,” Mr. Mark explains.

“It was designed to let you know if the outlet was alive or dead so you weren’t plugging your car into a dead outlet. I wasn’t able to patent it, but I continued making them and I bought so many plugs from Canadian Tire they pulled me aside to question me why I was buying so many. I explained it to the man, and he ended up buying a plug from me too! I ended up being quite successful at it."

He says he really grew up during his time in Winnipeg.

“I really got into other new foods which was huge for me. There are so many other cultures there and they had a Folklorama Fest where you can go to all kinds of different venues and try different cuisine. I got really involved in other foods there,” says Mr. Mark.

Over Christmas, Mr. Mark went to visit his mom who was living in BC at the time.

“I went to visit her in Surrey and realized I didn’t need a coat or a sweater and I loved it, so I went back to Winnipeg and sold everything and moved to Surrey!” he explains.

While living in Surrey, Mr. Mark started working for a company that made rum cake and from there got involved in trading and buying and selling products locally while raising his family but after a while he needed a break.

“We moved to Harrison Mills and lived in the bush. I needed a changeso I spent a couple of years there trying to figure out what to do,” Mr. Mark says.

“One night we had a chicken cookout and I made a sauce for it. Everyone raved about it and requested the sauce and wanted to cook with it. As I made it, I got more and more people asking for it and started making money. I decided to start bottling it. I had done lots of marketing in the past for other people so marketed it and sold it as a BBQ marinade."

His business began to expand with local corporate accounts, but that was just the beginning.

“My mom wanted to do the Granville Island Market and thought I should develop more products, so I made a BBQ sauce, a jerk sauce and a hot sauce. My well-known hot sauce was actually the last one. We had a little stall for around five years and my sauces were even listed with Urban Fare in Yaletown.

"My first account in Downtown Vancouver was called Paul’s Omelettery on Granville Street in 1997, and they are still an account today!” Mr. Mark says.

A tragic event changed everything for Mr. Mark suddenly.

“My mom decided to visit her sister in New York and during her trip 9/11 happened. Her sister worked for United Airlines and flew all over on a daily basis. We were worried all day until we finally got a phone call saying she was safe. My aunt was unwell that day and had also called in sick,” he explains.

“Even though we were lucky they were all okay, after 9/11, they shut down all commercial airspace for a year which shut me down for a year because I had gotten my peppers flown in,” he adds.

Because he didn’t have the peppers to meet the demands, he had to look elsewhere.

“I was looking for peppers and someone suggested to check out Keremeos. I took a trip and talked to a few people and met some farmers. I had some seeds saved from Jamaica and talked to some people and convinced them to grow my peppers, but I lost bigger accounts because of it," Mr. Mark explains.

“I got out of Harrison Mills and came down here. I found a kitchen and started cooking my sauces with my peppers. During that time Okanagan Falls had a market seven days a week and I got a spot selling there. I joined the Kelowna, Summerland and Peachland markets as they started up. I got so busy I couldn’t do them all. I started hitting all the pubs and restaurants locally as well. The Copper Mug was the first one! From there it grew. All over the city. I have around 30 accounts now outside of the shop. Bad Tattoo goes through so much they have their own special label for it,” he adds laughing.

Mr. Mark now has a location on Skaha Lake Road at the Barefoot Beach market. He sells delicious Caribbean food, his Jamaica 911 Hot Sauce, his Original Jerk Sauce and a Honey Jerk, which is a milder product. He developed Honey Jerk for new wing flavour. It is lighter in flavour and heat and is great being used for everything.

“At one point I had 12 different items and some I have never sold,” says Mr. Mark.

Between his time cooking up amazing sauces and some truly delicious Jamaican food, Mr. Mark can be seen enjoying the views.

"The view right here of Skaha reminds me of home in Montego Bay. The view outside my office window makes me never want to leave. The only thing missing is the salt air. I’m trying to recreate that atmosphere. I’ve also met a lot of good people here. There is just so much encouragement and local support!” Mr. Mark says.

Although he makes a mean patty and Jerk Chicken Poutine, Mr. Mark's favourite thing to cook may seem a bit unconventional.

“It's not even Caribbean,” he says laughing, “but I make a good meat sauce for spaghetti. I know it's crazy, but when I was growing up, my step father was Italian Canadian, and he made me like it. I make a mean spaghetti sauce. But my favourite Caribbean dish is curried goat."

Mr. Mark has plans to expand soon to the Fairview plaza.

“We will have a little cafe in the laundromat there soon! I will do production here and more retail there. There is traffic year round and we’re just about ready to open,” he says.

For people who want to pursue their passion for cooking, Mr. Mark recommends, “It's like anything else, if you have a passion for it you will do well at it! You will learn and do well. You have to have that passion and dedication like anything else. No one taught me to cook, other than life. I haven't learned from any chefs, but I have taught a few now! I prefer to cook than to eat out and have that natural passion for food and flavours and exploring that creativity. No one taught me how to make hot sauce but I just had the taste for it. I just sat down and figured it out.”

While cooking up his delicious sauces, Mr. Mark can be found listening to Redemption Song by Bob Marley & The Wailers.

“I love that tune, I love the acoustic guitar in it. I can get into that song any day of the week. My favourite line is ‘No one but ourselves can free our mind,'” explains Mr. Mark.

Check out his delicious foods at his shop on Skaha Lake Road and pick up some of his fantastic sauces!

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