There was a time when Bernie Gendron wondered if she made a mistake starting a Caribbean restaurant in the Golden Isles.
Her first year in business was in a kiosk at Glynn Place Mall, and it failed miserably because of lack of traffic.
But one of her loyal customers loved her food and believed her business just needed a change of venue for it to be a success. He turned out to be her future landlord.
Six years later, her business, Island Jerk, on Newcastle Street in downtown Brunswick, is thriving. And it was just recognized as among the Top 25 small businesses of the year in the nation for community service. That recognition comes on the heels of a state award for customer service.
Gendron said she thought it was a sales pitch when she got a phone call about her business being nominated for a national award and hung up on the caller. She got more calls and emails, all of which she ignored.
But she decided to answer her phone, hands free, while she was driving to learn why the caller was so persistent. She answered some questions and was notified she was a recipient of The Who’s Who in America award.
Gendron looks back on the day she opened on Newcastle Street six years ago, and remembers the promise she made to God.
“I told him to take care of me and I’ll take care of your people,” she said.
Besides donating food to local charities, Gendron has also created the Meals in Reserve program. Her customers can donate $5 to pay for a meal, with a bottle of water, for a homeless person. Her business gets donations daily to help pay for meals.
“We have a good product,” she said. “We have a consistent product.”
The day she announced the Meals in Reserve program, one of her customers donated $1,000, with a promise to donate another $1,000 if someone matched his donation. The following day, a woman came into the restaurant and donated $1,000. The first donor lived up to his vow and donated another $1,000 to the program.
“I have people who come in for a free meal, every day, all the time,” she said. “Everything I’m doing now is community based.”
Gendron said she doesn’t have the ability or financial wherewithal to feed every homeless person asking for a meal but she helps where she can.
She is working with the Brunswick Downtown Development Authority, to conduct healthy cooking demonstrations. Gendron is also working on rebranding her restaurant.
“My customers understand my mission here,” she said. “We help all these people.”