By 5 a.m. some mornings, Jessica Silver Wood is at Caliente Mexican Grill preparing fresh chicken and steak, as well as guacamole, salsa and salad dressing from scratch.
“After lunch everything has to be remade, so it’s always fresh,” said Wood.
The dedication to fresh, local food at reasonable prices didn’t start out to be a profitable way to manage Caliente, but volume and efficiency have made it so, said Wood, who owns the Mexican grill and six other businesses in her Fire & Water Restaurant Group.
Caliente is one of three restaurants Wood owns in the Kingston Emporium in South Kingstown, where the clientele is mostly from the tcampus community at the University of Rhode Island. Burger Shack and UMelt, a grilled-cheese eatery, are also in the Emporium and are run with the same emphasis on fresh, local food.
Wood, who is from Amherst, Mass., worked in restaurants through college and long had the desire to launch her own business.
She ran track and cross-country at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and athletic events sometimes took her to Rhode Island. The state won her over.
“It’s the most amazing state, with the ocean and the farmland and the city all within a 60-mile radius,” said Wood.
The Fire & Water Restaurant Group grew from one concession near the water, at Old Silver Beach in Falmouth, Mass. She and her business partner and husband, Ben Wood, who had also worked in restaurants through college, heard that a concession was up for bid by the town and they got it.
“We were looking for something to do in the summers. We had to make an investment and we borrowed the money from his parents,” said Wood, who was 24 years old and in graduate school at the time. “We took a little gamble, but we paid it back after the first summer.”
Their recipe for success was “giving people more than they expect,” said Wood. “We wanted to elevate the usual beach food and served fresh burgers, wraps and fruit cups.”
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