Three days a week, Chef Julian Goodluck parks his a big blue food truck called The Caribbean Cruiser at the corner of O'Connor Street and Laurier Avenue, and starts whipping up his usual culinary creations: curried goat, fish cakes, ox-tail soup and roasted jerk chicken.
A couple hours later, you notice passers-by and pedestrians walking in the cruiser's direction, sniffing the air like spaniels and before you know it, there's a queue in front of the truck.
“I open up the window so that people on the street can smell my cooking,” Goodluck says, as if he knows something you don't. “In the time I've been here, many of my customers have become my friends. We eat, hang out for a while. It's like a party.”
The chef is up everyday at 6 a.m., prepping the raw ingredients he'll use to make the 100 or so lunches he sells everyday. By 10 a.m., he's at his city-designated corner, cooking and casting Caribbean spells on hungry pedestrians. Menu favourites are jerk chicken and goat roti.
“I love cooking Caribbean food for people because I'm doing God's work,” Goodluck says. “I'm putting a smile on people's faces and bringing them some happiness. If you can't get to the Caribbean for a holiday, I'll bring the Caribbean to you.”
The Caribbean Cruiser's been serving lunch on O'Conner Street since 2018, when Goodluck was finally able to buy and refurbish a food truck with a massive kitchen for $90,000, and realize his teenage dream of being a chef.
He'd left the Barbados for Ottawa in 1999 with no real plans other than to move in with his girlfriend. He took a few courses at Algonquin College in marketing, but he missed cooking. It wasn't until 2013 when the City of Ottawa launched a program to encourage diversity in the food truck business that Goodluck saw his opportunity to get back into the kitchen again.
“I realized that there wasn't a Caribbean food truck in Ottawa and I decided I wanted to be the first one. I knew that it would be popular because people in Ottawa are adventurous, and the food landscape here is changing. They like tasty food. There's a misconception that Caribbean food is spicy. I cook for an international palette Canadians like. Caribbean food is fragrant and flavourful. I cook the same food I ate growing up. If you want it spicy, I'll make it whatever way you want. It's food that loves you back.”
Like most restaurateurs, the pandemic hit Goodluck pretty hard, cutting his business by two-thirds. For now, the free-spirited, happy-go-lucky Goodluck appears to be rolling with the punches.
Before the pandemic, when the government offices were full, long lunch queues in front of his truck were a common sight. Business was so good that occasionally, the kitchen ran out of food altogether. His catering service was active as well, with bookings most weekends doing weddings and festivals.
“I was born optimistic,” he says. “When I was born laughing, my momma thought I was born crying.”
In the meantime, he hopes the city will open soon so he can continue to build on the success he had.
“I want to make Caribbean food as popular as my Lebanese brothers made the shawarma omnipresent in Ottawa. That's what I want to do for Caribbean food. I want to be an ambassador of Caribbean cuisine.”