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'How About a Slice?': A Pizza Joint in the Heart of the City

Ready for the Oven

Kingston: Brick Stone Pizza is nestled in the heart of what I like to call “upper downtown”. The phrase was coined by a colleague of mine when we worked at the Grand Old Lady of North Street, one night when we tried desperately to get pizza delivered to the newspaper’s office. Resting at the corner of one of the little lanes branching off East Street, Brick Stone is in one of the last places you would expect to find a pizzeria in Jamaica, and that is a part of its charm.

The pizzeria is simplicity itself. It is a very small outfit and to call it ‘quaint’ is to stretch that word to its limits. It’s a Saturday evening after sunset when my friends and I descend on it, and it’s empty except for the owner and his assistant who are hard at work. The four of us can barely hold inside and so we take turns looking around. After we place our order, we are told that we can hang out in the parking lot across the street and they’ll bring us a table if we like. By then, the city’s heat has begun to lift and it is a reasonably quiet night.

The pizzeria, owned and operated by Ken Austin has been in business for approximately six months, and has already begun to make its mark. In truth it’s more reminiscent of a corner shop than a pizza parlour. There is a glass cupboard proffering the pies being sold per slice, and a chalkboard telling the others available. The building has been painted brick red with re-drawn bricks to echo the name. However, it isn’t lost on me that this building like many of its neighbours was possibly once made of brick and harkens to Kingston’s stately past.

When asked why he decided to bring his business to this locale, Austin’s answer is simple.

“I like the flow off East Street,” he said. “I like the energy.”

Austin adds that small pizza joints the world over work off the energy of their location, and he’s simply doing the same. Later on he would also point out that uptown is driving many good businesses into the ground so he thought it much wiser to locate downtown where rent is cheaper.  He insists that I don’t need to ask him many questions as the pizza will do all the talking. Ronaldo Porteous prepares to make a delivery

Austin works with two ovens, a brick oven – from which the store gets its name, and a regular oven, which is used when the crowd is light. While we are there, a little girl from the neighbourhood comes to place an order and seats herself quietly on the lone bench to wait until the pie is done. Other patrons, seemingly from the neighbourhood wander in, and a woman who possibly lives in the apartment upstairs, steps out to have a very loud and excitable conversation involving a fire and another woman she had recently bought hair from.

In Jamaica, burgers and chicken remain the fast-food kings and until recent years, easy access to pizza was rare for the working class and below. In part, it’s because most pizzerias are located above the Crossroads marker that separates uptown and downtown, and the delivery men do not wander below it. Ronaldo Porteous, Brick Stone’s deliveryman, explains that most of their business generates in the downtown area, but they make deliveries all around the city, including into the enclaves of the well-to-do.

When the pizzas arrived (a pepperoni and a Hawaiian), they made for a very decent interview. The pizza isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but its good and he’s clearly added something a little out of the ordinary to the Hawaiian. And I can’t help but admire what he has done. I’m not a cultural purist, but I don’t think that the incursion of more and more American fast-food joints is what this country needs. But this is not what this is.

Sitting in a parking lot sipping wine from a faux glass and eating pizza in downtown Kingston, tells me there is hope for my country. To me, this is the clearest sign that Jamaica’s hope rests in the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, who need to be encouraged to let go of the hustle, and explore more sustainable businesses. Beside the pizza shop is another tiny restaurant also building its customer base. Both ventures remind me that Jamaica’s economic future is tied to the creative imagination of our people, including cuisine.

But maybe I’m just a romantic, or maybe it was the wine.