CLAREMONT — Members of the city and local business community held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting Friday afternoon for the Sunshine Cookshop, in recognition of the Jamaican restaurant’s first year in business at 37 Pleasant St.
Claremont Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill and Small Business Specialist Rebecca Vinduska organized the event as part of the city’s ongoing initiative to recognize localized small businesses.
Restaurant owner Errol Letman, 59, first opened Sunshine Cookshop in 2017 at its previous location of 147 Pleasant St. In Jan. 2019, Letman moved his operation directly into the historic downtown, where he serves a variety of carribean favorites, such as curried or jerked chickens, oxtail and curried goat.
“I think my three favorites are the curried chicken, jerked chicken and the oxtail,” Letman said.
Born in Jamaica, Letman has lived in New Hampshire since 1999. His cooking first drew area attention around 12 years ago as a vendor at the Newport farmer’s market.
Letman said he found his passion for cooking while growing up. He cited his mother’s cooking as an influence of his.
Letman operates the restaurant with his daughter Gayann Letman, a self-trained chef in her own right.
“I grew up around cooking,” Gayann said. “Cooking was a very early passion. I like to create.”
Gayann was 18 when she moved with her family to Newport. She attended Newport Middle High School, where she played on the soccer team. In 2018, Gayann opened her own restaurant in Hanover, a Carribean and Thai fusion restaurant called Leyas Island.
The restaurant drew strong business, but a problem involving the building’s ownership forcered Gayann to close only five months afterward.
Ben Nelson, owner of Claremont Spice & Dry Goods on 12 Tremont St., attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony as a supportive member of the business community.
“Errol and Gayann have started a gem here and I want to see it succeed,” Nelson said.
Nelson, who provides cooking spices and ingredients for many restaurants in the area, emphasized the importance to have strong partnership and community in one’s commercial downtown.
As a small business partner, Nelson said that he likes to get lunch at Sunshine Cookshop, and other local restaurants he serves, in part to see those farm-to-table connections between his products and how they’re being used.
He’s also a fan of Sunshine’s food.
“It’s a place you can go to enjoy a truly savory meal that’s authentic but also approachable for people who are new to the cuisine,” Nelson said.
Nelson said that supporting independent, family-owned businesses requires “a community effort,” particularly when the downtown has seen a number of recent closures.
Nelson’s business, like others downtown, benefits from having “foot traffic” of people coming through the downtown, Nelson explained. People who come early to a downtown appointment or to eat lunch will often browse nearby shops, which often leads to purchases, repeat visits or telling others about the business.
Nelson said he frequently gives tourists and other visitors to the city recommendations for local dining, retailers and other services, as a way to support the downtown’s and city’s offerings.
The Sunshine Cookshop is open on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Entrees cost between $9 to $14 and are served with red beans and rice. Side items, such as beef patties — a Jamaican equivalent to an empanada — or sweet potato pie are $4.