Tower Island Frozen Foods produces Jamaican-style patties with a delicious beef or chicken filling that’s seasoned with island spices and baked inside a pastry crust. For nearly 50 years, the company’s food products have been proudly made in Brooklyn, home to one of the largest populations of Jamaican-Americans in the United States.
Today, Tower Isles’ patties can be found in leading supermarkets and grocery stores. They’re also available through distributors and independent wholesalers. For Patrick Jolly, the company’s president and a co-owner, the business that coined the term “Jamaican-style” patties is like a family.
From Startup to Scale-Up
Early and Beryl Levi, a Jamaican-born husband and wife team, started Tower Island Frozen Foods in 1968. The company’s first location, a family bakery in the Crown Heights neighborhood, sold patties to local retailers who carried other Caribbean products. To meet USDA requirements, however, Earl and Beryl needed a production facility.
The couple financed a 5,000-sq. foot building, started a small manufacturing operation, and became the first Jamaican patty company to become USDA-certified. Within a decade, however, Tower Isles had outgrown this facility and needed a larger space. When a local car dealership left for Long Island, Earl and Beryl bought the property. Tower Isles’ continued to grow and add employees.
The Right Person at the Right Time
In 1975, Patrick Jolly joined the company as a bookkeeper. The Jamaican-born accountant had enjoyed a successful banking career before immigrating to the United States, and held a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and an MBA in Finance from Pace College (now Pace University). Jolly had been offered a job by another company after graduation, but was unable to accept the position because of his visa status.
When a personnel agency told him about a bookkeeping job for “a little company in Brooklyn”, Jolly seized the opportunity. “It was like the right person had come in at the right time,” he explains. In addition to his bookkeeping duties, Jolly helped to improve production and increase sales. He thrived as Tower Island Frozen Foods grew and gained additional responsibilities.
When Earl Levi died in 1995, Beryl turned to trusted employees like Jolly to ensure the company’s continued success. “She was a very kind person who treated employees like family,” Jolly remembers.
Business Continuity and Growth
In some family-owned companies, the death of a founder can mean the end of the business. Earl Levi had left his 50% share of Tower Isles to a son and a daughter, but the children had their own companies to run. So when Beryl died in 2011, she gave her 50% share to 20 valued employees instead. Patrick Jolly received a large part of this share, but ownership in Tower Isles wasn’t done changing hands.
When Earl and Beryl’s children sold their 50% share to these same 20 employees, Tower Island Frozen Foods became 100% employee-owned. These employees still own the company today, but there are now 75 workers at Tower Isles’ Brooklyn facility. As Tower Island Frozen Foods looks towards its golden anniversary of 50 years, its future in New York State is brighter than ever.