Article and photos by Mathew Waterman
It’s 5:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Facing strong winds and 19-degree weather, Phillip Biggs heads to work on what will go down as one of the coldest Thanksgivings in New York City history. Biggs is all smiles despite the chilly weather. “It’s that time of year again!” says Biggs as he gets ready to partake in his company’s annual Thanksgiving community give-away.
Biggs, 28, works as a cook and baker at Grace Delicious, a Jamaican restaurant and bakery located in the Utica section of Brooklyn. Grace Delicious has two sister restaurants in East New York and Crown Heights where Biggs helps out as needed.
Biggs regularly works as a cook from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then again as a baker from 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Though he enjoys cooking, his passion is baking bread. A native of Jamaica, Biggs was taught how to cook and bake by his family at an early age. “My parents were gifted in the kitchen; my father was a cook and my mother owns a sea food business in the Bahamas,” he said. “I guess it was cultivated at birth.”
On Thanksgiving morning, Biggs is headed to Tasty Delicious, a sister restaurant in Crown Heights, the only location that participates in the giveaway, which the restaurant chain has held each Thanksgiving since 2011. To accommodate the large number of people who will line up for the free giveaway, the restaurant and bakery prepares one- to two-days-worth of food. The most popular dish is oxtail with rice and peas, salad, plantains and macaroni pie; the restaurant prepares 70 medium-sized orders to give away free of charge. When the oxtail runs out, customers may get stew chicken, curry goat or jerk chicken, which are all served with either white rice or rice and peas, as well as salad and plantains on the side.
It was as if Biggs were attending a movie premiere when he arrived at the restaurant at 7:45 a.m. Thanksgiving morning; Biggs was greeted by a line that already stretched along the pavement past the shop’s picture window, which was festooned with a sign that read “Tasty Delicious give away.”
“I love this!” exclaimed Biggs, beaming. “This is our way of giving back and getting people involved in the spirit of Thanksgiving.”
Inside the restaurant, an assembly line of employees filled containers of oxtail, macaroni pie, curry goat and stew chicken. In addition to those who came for their free meals, some customers came to pick up pre-ordered turkeys. Sweetbreads, one of Bigg’s specialties, were being sold half price for $4. Pound cakes, velvet cakes and currant rolls, which usually retail for $5 to $10 were given out to the first 50 customers for free and were sold at half price to those who came later.
Bertha Davis is a regular customer at the main Grace Delicious location in Utica where Biggs usually works. But today she’s waiting on line at the Crown Heights restaurant for the give-away. “Hey Biggs, what’s happening?” asked Davis. “Anything good to fill my belly?”
Kenneth Williamson, another regular customer standing on line at the Utica restaurant, called out to his favorite baker: “Yo Biggs, I know you got me again this Thanksgiving, what’s good?”
Eventually, Biggs hopes to earn a business degree and open his own restaurant one day. Until then, he will continue to work on Thanksgiving. “As far as I am concerned Thanksgiving should be every day, but this is our way of giving back and letting people in the community know that we appreciate their business,” he says.