The Belizean food company VERENA FOODS made its first sale on November 8, 2002…..the first birth date of my daughter DANAI VERENA HARRISON.
The name VERENA comes from my grandmother VERENA LISBEY, of San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize. It is a name of Latin origin, and signifies INTEGRITY….or TRUE.
VERENA FOODS is engaged in processing, packaging and marketing stable-shelf-life, high-quality food products with the VERENA’s proprietary brand. The product lines have included oils and fats, honey and syrups, vinegar and pickles, tomato-based sauces, hot habanero pepper sauces, fruit and vegetable mash and preserves and coffee products.
When I was a child, my mother used to own and manage one of the most popular restaurants in San Ignacio called TONY’s INN, named after my eldest brother Charles Anthony. It was located in the downtown area, next door to my granny’s home. My mom would go there from early and work all day and into the night.
In the mornings, we would go there to clean up the restaurant and get it ready for the business day, before getting ready for school and having breakfast at my granny’s next door. We would return there for lunch in the afternoon….and again after school…play in the yard…do homework….and wait there until my mom would close the restaurant, and then we would go home. In those days, breakfast and supper were called TEA. Lunch was called DINNER.
We would have TEA-DINNER-TEA at my granny Verena’s kitchen…on a very big mahogany table that could seat around 20 persons. My siblings and cousins, aunt and uncles, would sit around the table….have conversations, eat and play board games….Chelupa, Snake and Ladder, Monopoly, Checkers, card games, etc. Many times we would be joined by impromptu “guests”….persons who would come from villages such as Cristo Rey, San Antonio, Succotz, Bullet Tree, Barton Creek, Spanish Lookout, etc to trade their agricultural produce. They would use the yard and sometimes the house to store their produce…and use the rest room (out house), drink water and yes, share whatever is served on the big mahogany table. Most of these people were very grateful and many times brought produce to share with us….there was never ever any shortage of food in that house of many mouths.
There were several people who perhaps were searching for their way in life….who stayed there for years….and became a part of the family. This is how it was…..help, share and give as much as you can. My granny would give all of us chores to do and would teach us how to do them well…everything was to be shared as equally as possible….and she would protect all of us with her blood if she had to…even as she would teach us right from wrong, and discipline us when we fell out of line…then she would make our favorite dessert if she felt she lashed too hard and we cried too much. She would tell us stories about the past of our families….about our town…how it was when she was growing up…and even ananci and xtabai stories.
Mamita (as my granny Verena was affectionately called) and my grand-aunt Mariana who everyone called “Tia”, were two of three Lisbey sisters that we grew up with. Every day their house was filled with the aroma of good home cooking. They would make guava jelly, creole bread and bun, Johnny cakes, powder buns, coconut sweet, tablayta sweet, pumpkin sweet, stew supa, stew craboo, carrot cake, light cake with caramel topping, lemon pie, tamales, escabeche, relleno negro, salbutes, panades (my favorite was the cheese panades)….the best rice and beans….and oh, bollos, tamalitos and tamales from heaven. Every meal was made with love inside. You did not get up until when your plate was clean….many times by licking it (sneaking, because licking a plate was bad manners)…..we used to say that “we eat so we no haftu wash we plate”
All the cooking was done on an indoor cast-iron fire hearth stove with a chimney which was in a part of the building which is like an addition to the dining area. The many years of cooking with fire wood made the walls of that part of the building black with sooth….but my granny still washed the walls every week from top to bottom with scrubbing brush.
My granny Verena was not a perfect woman….but she was a strong one.
We were told a story once….that the police had come to their house to arrest one of her brothers for a brawl at a weekend dance. She told the police not to take advantage of her brother….that she would take him to the police station herself and hand him in peacefully. The police insisted and went to handcuff her brother….she grabbed the policeman and stuffed him physically into a garbage drum that was nearby….then they allowed her to take her brother to the police station without handcuffing or beating him.
She would purge us every other weekend….seena and sorosi tea and PL Pills….and one time she passed a lit fire wood through my brother Tony’s legs to make him drink his purge, crying and bawling. Those are aweful tasting traditional herbal medicines. She believed that would make us healthy and strong.
Mamita stood for family, hard work, humility, respect, discipline, sharing and caring…..and for high quality, great- tasting foods.
This is why in my dream of building an exemplary and leading Belizean brand and manufacturing business of high-quality, great tasting food products…..I chose the name VERENA’s.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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