Meet Barbara Saltmann. First landing in Berlin in 1979 as a tourism student, the Montego Bay-born entrepreneur took over the reins of a seriously easygoing Jamaican restaurant in Moabit five years ago, re-naming it “Ya Man” and gaining custody of its prized jerk chicken recipe. The 62-year-old consummate hostess explains how, with a combination of hard graft and an indomitable Caribbean attitude, she’s thrived in the Hauptstadt.
How did it happen?
I was helping the previous owner to find somebody to buy the place. But when I understood that he was about to sell not just the place but also his secret recipe, I was like “What?! My God, I feel like you’re selling my grandfather’s underwear!” and that’s how I came to buy this place. To protect the recipe. And of course I love cooking and entertaining.
What does it take to start a business in Berlin?
It takes a lot of organising, running from one office to the other, to get all the papers… I like to do things like I’d do them in Jamaica.
What’s your daily routine?
Oh my God, when I wake up first thing in the morning I go and buy fresh vegetables, I open the shop, I put the tables out, I try to tend to my garden. I get the food started and by 12 o’clock we’re ready for lunch, then after 3 o’clock it’s quiet and I have a little time for myself.
What’s the best moment of your day?
It’s just in the evening when I feel I’m ready to go home, so I can hit my bed.
What’s your management style?
I don’t try to say that I’m the boss; we work together. The staff likes that. We work hand-in-hand and okay, I have to pay the bills, but really we are all bosses in the sense that we try to do everything to the best of our ability…
What’s your motto?
Just keep smiling!
If you went on a three-month sabbatical, what would happen?
I’d have to close the place! If something went wrong when I wasn’t there, I’d get a call and then I couldn’t relax and enjoy my break, so I’d have to close it.
What does it mean to be the boss?
Sometimes I think “Why did I do this to myself?” because it’s a lot of work. At one time when I was an employee, I had more friends, I had more time, I had more money! But it’s a give and take, I can close when I want to close, but then I have to think of my customers. For example, I was recently in Jamaica, and I thought to myself, “Do I really have to go back?” But no, I can’t stay, my customers are waiting. They’re more than customers now, they’re like friends.
Do you have any advice for a young Berlin entrepreneur?
Nothing happens overnight, just take it step by step. And if you fall, get up again!
What is it that you love about your place?
The minute you come in here, you hear the reggae music, you see all the colours and you just calm down. When the customers come in, I say, “Welcome to Jamaica!” and they smile, the ice is broken. A lot of them say, “Oh my God, this is like a little holiday.”
I’d like to open a second place in a busy area where I could serve more people, that would be great. So that more of Berlin could taste a little piece of Jamaica.
What’s something about Ya Man that you’ve never told anyone before?
Honestly, there’s nothing to tell. Ya Man, like Barbara’s life, is an open book!