It’s hard to miss Charley King’s Jamaican jerk sauce stall at the Western North Carolina Farmers Market, with its ornamentation of hanging tie-dyed shirts and the verdant green Jamaican flag. However, you will not always find its owner, Charles Nembhard, seated in front. He is compactly built and carries a gentle but steady energy that exudes from his smile and predilection to flit over to neighboring stalls, helping customers bag goods and vendors clean up spills.
On a recent day at his stall, he seems frustrated, pointing to an absence of customers at the market. “I see people with ‘Eat Local’ bumper stickers, but where are they?” he asks. “These are local farmers, local producers. This is where I spend my own money whenever I can, putting it back in the community.”
This passion has seen Nembhard back on his feet after severe complications from a childhood injury. In 2014, he received hip and femur replacements and rehabilitative therapy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical with support from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
He has spent the last two years rebuilding Charley King’s from that medically imposed hiatus to the stable business it is today. This achievement recently made him one of four recipients of the DVRS’s 2018 Small Business Award.
Nembhard, who grew up in a single-parent household with seven siblings in the mountains of Jamaica, is familiar with fame. As a child, he trapped birds and foraged for edible flora around his village. “All of it was organic,” he says with a smile. His gift for grilling what he caught and collected was soon village news. Describing his earliest cooking forays, he says, “Our kitchen was outside. [Family and neighbors] would smell my cooking and come running.”
Fast forward, and today Charley King’s Jamaican jerk sauces can be found regionally at Ingles, Whole Foods Markets and other local retailers — and it’s keeping him busy. “There are no days off,” he says.
Mike Turner, Nembhard’s rehabilitation counselor, corroborates this when visiting the company’s commercial kitchen in Black Mountain. “Charles and one helper produce and bottle all the sauces, and Charles alone does the marketing, billing and distribution,” Turner explains. “I asked him when he slept. He smiled and said, ‘I get little of that.’”
Ben Kittner, a DVRS small business specialist, says award nominees “must have a detailed business plan and overcome a significant disability. Winning businesses show sustainable growth and a network of supporters and advisors in the local business community.”
For the first time, the DVRS had multiple outstanding nominees for the award this year. Along with Nembhard, attorney Patrick Newman in Morehead City, Darlene Lane of Dee’s Power Up Cleaning Services in Whiteville and David Tedrow of Senior Health Insurance Brokers, LLC, in Durham were all named Small Business Award winners.
Nembhard says his future plans include upcoming lines of salad dressings and beverages and increasing his distribution to Whole Foods and other large chain markets around the country. Also, he hopes to bring more people to the WNC Farmers Market.
“I want [the market] buzzing, with lines out the door,” he says. You can catch some of the buzz yourself Saturday, Sept. 29, when Nembhard offers “a taste of authentic Jamaican jerk” with his Charley King’s line of sauces. He will be grilling at the WNC Farmers Market to live reggae music 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Get in touch with Charles Nembhard and get more details about Charley King’s products at charleykings.com.
WHAT: A Taste of Authentic Jamaican Jerk
WHERE: WNC Farmers Market, 570 Brevard Road. avl.mx/5br
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 29, 11-3 p.m. Free