Orlene’s Kitchen – bringing soul to the heart of Cambridge

Meet the team behind Orlene’s Kitchen, the vibrant new Jamaican café that recently opened in the community space at our Cambridge Guildhall centre. We chatted to Orlene and Leon to find out more about how their business started and what their hopes are for the hottest new venture in town! 

How did Orlene’s Kitchen start?  

Orlene: Orlene’s Kitchen was started in my kitchen! 

Leon: We started back in early 2020. I was working in Atlanta, Georgia for a music publishing company and record label. I flew back for my Mum’s birthday and then couldn’t return because of the pandemic. After a few months went by I had to re-think how I was going to make money. Before I went to America I had experience of running a food business and I’d always been into cooking – so I asked my mum if I could use her kitchen and my friends started to put orders in! Then when the orders grew, the kitchen just wasn’t big enough, so we decided to find a bigger space and we’ve been growing ever since.  

Where did you both learn to cook? 

O: I was self-taught. I had no choice because I was from a big family, and for some reason the cooking seemed to fall on me, but I enjoyed it anyway.  

L: For me, it was being in the kitchen from an early age helping my mum, and I grew to enjoy it more and more as I got older.  

What do you love most about the type of cuisine you cook? 

O: I love it because I can cook it with my eyes closed. I am Jamaican and lots of people love the types of dishes we make such as curry goat with rice and peas, or ackee and saltfish. I enjoy doing it, especially when I know people are enjoying what I’m cooking. 

L: The end product – eating it! I also enjoy the process of cooking, the colours and the smells. Seeing other people’s joy while eating our food is a great feeling. 

Photo: Keith Heppell, Cambridge Independent

What inspires your recipes?  

L: Me and my brothers have spent a lot of time in America, and so my cooking style became a fusion of the Jamaican influence from mum, with the influence of American food after spending so much time there and enjoying that sort of food too.  

O: It’s really nice when someone says I really enjoyed that. It inspires me to want to keep cooking. 

Why did you choose to open a café at the Guildhall? 

L: The opportunity came to us really and we decided to go for it. I grew up in Cambridge and the Guildhall is literally iconic – you can’t get any more central than this. It’s also really nice to be in a space where Allia is supporting entrepreneurs and other small businesses. 

Outside of the kitchen, Orlene, you run a gospel church. Can you tell us more about that? 

I grew up in church. My husband is a Minister, and that’s how we ended up in Cambridge. He runs a gospel church where we have a choir that we’ve been involved with for many years, and we do a lot of work with young people as well. One of my sons is a professional singer and he’s quite involved within the church and within the gospel world.  

And Leon, did your interest in music come from being involved with the church?  

I got into the music business from a managerial point of view. I went to university to study business combined with music marketing and studio production. I ultimately wanted to be someone that made music, because my brother had the better voice! I also played the drums growing up which was influenced by the church. I’ve always loved music and had that musical inclination, but I decided to go down the business route rather than the creative side. 

What are your hopes for the new café at the Guildhall? 

L: To be in the heart of Cambridge and be able to serve the community. Because of our church background we know a lot of people so it’s great that we can serve the community and for people to come in and enjoy our food. We want this to be a relaxing, friendly and safe space with a lovely ambience. We are really excited for people to come in and meet us and try our food.   

Going from running a takeaway during lockdown to having a bustling café in central Cambridge feels like such a positive step. The council have been great and they are developing the pedestrian area just outside the café entrance on Peas Hill by the market square, so the whole area is coming back to life. 

What do you like about being part of the Allia community?  

O: From day one that we’ve been introduced to them it’s been like a family. The support that Allia give to us and other businesses is amazing. It makes us feel comfortable and feel that we are not on our own.  

What advice would you give anyone who wants to open up a café or restaurant? 

O: Just go for it. It’s a challenge and at times it’s been quite scary but I would say to anybody if they have the passion then just to go for it. There’s nothing to lose. 

You can visit Orlene’s Kitchen on Tuesdays to Sundays in the Guildhall. Pop in to try some delicious Jamaican food or grab a coffee from Orlene and Leon and say hello! www.orleneskitchencafe.com/