“People of the Caribbean like very bold, spicy and flavorful food,” says Sophia Hewitt-Bailey, owner of the new Caribbean Life Grocery and Gift Shop in Lewiston. Her husband, Jeff Bailey, takes no exception to that.

“I started cooking when I was little,” says Jeff, “and I was always in the kitchen with my grandmother and my mother, watching everything they did.”

Though he’s come and gone from Lewiston-Auburn a couple of times, Jeff has called Lewiston “home” for nearly two decades. His passion for Caribbean cooking, however, has never wavered.

During the 1990s, Jeff lived in New York, where he ran a restaurant called The Chris Club, owned by his cousin. Meanwhile, his brother opened a Jamaican restaurant on Hampshire Street in Auburn. Initially, Jeff came to L-A for a visit, but he found work with his brother as a chef. The Auburn restaurant, called Jamaicas, didn’t last very long, but Jeff stayed and has made a life for himself here in Maine.

Enter Sophia Hewitt. In 2006, she came to Maine for a family reunion. “I had a cousin who lived here,” she says. Her cousin’s best friend was Jeff Bailey; Sophia stayed on to ultimately become Sophia Hewitt-Bailey.

“Everybody has a hobby,” says Sophia, and for Jeff it’s cooking. “Jeff cooks for nearly all of the Jamaican parties in the area, and if you want your party to fill up with friends, you just tell people that Jeff is cooking.” She adds, “I think he is just gifted.”


Jeff is humble about his skills and local renown: “I just did it one day, and I kept doing it.”

He attributes his passion for cooking, in part, to his mother, who prepared traditional Caribbean dishes likes oxtail and curried goat. “Oxtail,”  notes Sophia, “is the tail of a cow.” “It tastes like roast beef,” adds Jeff.

Jeff begins preparing oxtail stew by cutting off as much of the fat as possible. “It’s very fatty,” he says, and if you don’t remove the fat the finished product can be a little oily.

He then rubs the prepared sections of oxtail with a mixture of Jamaican spices and lets them sit “for a couple of hours, or even overnight. . . . The more it sits, the bolder it tastes,” he explains.

Jeff prefers to use a heavy, lidded “Dutch pot” — what Americans call a Dutch oven — to cook the oxtail. “When you’re ready to cook,” he says, melt a little butter or heat up a little oil, add the meat “to brown it up,” and turn it until both sides are brown.

“Then,” he says, “you fill the pot with enough water to cover the meat, because oxtail takes a good while to cook. Cover it up and cook it slowly – for about 1.5 hours.”


He recommends checking the oxtail often and adding water as necessary to keep the meat from burning or sticking. The added water will also serve to make a thick, flavorful gravy.

When the meat is nearly cooked, add sliced onions and tomatoes to the pot, stir and cook until the onions are translucent and the remaining liquid is thick. Then, add a can of butter beans, cook for five or 10 minutes, and serve with rice and peas, a traditional Jamaican side dish.

Jeff’s oxtail stew, which he cooked until it fell off the bone like a perfectly cooked spare rib, did indeed taste like a rich and flavorful roast beef, with a spicy Jamaican twist.

As for the rice and peas side dish, “We favor the basmati rice,” says Jeff, but you can also use jasmine or other rice. (Jeff recommends washing the rice before cooking to get rid of the starch.)

“I never make rice and peas without coconut milk, (coconut) cream or (coconut) powder,” notes Jeff. And, rather than cutting the green onion he uses in his recipe, Jeff uses the handle of a knife or another flat cooking utensil to crush it. These ingredients and techniques, says Sophia, “add flavor.”

Jeff’s recipes for oxtail stew and rice and beans are provided with today’s story.



“Back home, to make the rice and peas, we would pick the pigeon peas off of the trees in December, January and February,” says Jeff. “Pigeon peas look like string beans, and you take the peas out of the pods.”

Locally, you can buy them, along with the oxtail sections, Jamaican spices and other essentials — even the Dutch pot — at Sophia’s store at 940 Lisbon St.

According to Sophia, “I used to come visit my cousins, and every time they would ask me to bring stuff. I got tired of lugging it all from New York, and so I got an idea to open a grocery store.”

“I started to write a business plan,” she says, and then discovered the New Venture program at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn campus, “and that was the magic moment.”

Fast forward three months and, according to William Card of the Small Business Administration, “Thanks in large part to a SBA microloan delivered through Community Concepts, Sophia was able to turn her dream into a reality.”


“We had a soft opening on Aug. 4,” says Sophia, and she hasn’t looked back. She relies heavily on Jeff, who makes frequent early-morning trips to Boston to select the freshest and best produce for her store and to obtain other items and food stuffs to keep the Caribbean Life Grocery and Gift Shop’s patrons, as well as Jeff and Sophia’s family and friends, happy.

“Jeff likes everything to be very fresh,” says Sophia, so the frequent trips to Boston and beyond are no worry.

Although Jeff doesn’t have a favorite food, he does enjoy making soup, especially in the winter. He can also cook Italian and American cuisine when his family or friends request it.

“Sunday dinners,” says Sophia, are always a big deal in the Bailey household and typically include offerings such as Jeff’s popular oxtail stew and rice and beans, as well as jerk chicken, shrimp cocktail, yams, and escovitch fish — a very spicy white fish prepared with a scotch bonnet pepper, pimento, onions, carrots, garlic and vinegar.

Like a truly skillful and experienced cook, Jeff says it’s all about freshness, flavor and improvisation. “Once you know what you like, you can mix up the ingredients.”

Oxtail stew



2-3 pounds of oxtail

1 lemon

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon of Maggi Season Up! all-purpose seasoning

1 tablespoon Goya Sazonador Total seasoning mix (optional)

1 tablespoon Grace Browning Sauce (optional)


1 chopped large yellow onion

2 chopped green onions (scallions)

2 diced tomatoes

4 or 5 whole pimento seeds (whole allspice)

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper (remove seeds) to taste


1 can of Grace butter beans

2 tablespoons vegetable oil


Trim fat from oxtail and rinse oxtail in cold water.

Juice one lemon and wash the meat with the lemon juice.

In a mixing bowl, season meat with:


2 tablespoon of Maggi Season Up! all-purpose seasoning

1 tablespoon Goya Sazonador Total seasoning mix

1 teaspoon of minced garlic

1 tablespoon of browning sauce (optional)

Place seasoned meat in a container and marinade overnight.

Heat Dutch pot or heavy-bottom stock pot with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.


Brown all sides of the oxtail, being careful to save the marinade in the bag.

Remove browned oxtails and set aside. Add 1/2 of a chopped large yellow onion and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic to the pot. Cook until onions are translucent.

Return oxtails to the pot, pour in the remaining marinade, add 4 or 5 pimento seeds (whole allspice), 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, Scotch bonnet or habanero with seeds removed to taste, and 4 cups of water.

Bring pot to a boil and cook for one hour or until meat is tender

After an hour add two diced tomatoes, four chopped green onions and the other half of the chopped large yellow onion.

Pour in one cup of water, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.


After 30 minute, add one can of drained butter beans (lima beans).

Simmer for another 30 minutes or until oxtails are fork tender.

Plate stew on a bed of rice.

Jamaican rice and peas


1 can Grace dry pigeon peas or red kidney beans


2 cloves garlic, smashed

1/4 pack of Grace creamed coconut

2 stalks of scallion (green onions), crushed

1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper, (optional)

3 sprigs fresh thyme

2 cups long-grain rice



Salt to taste


Drain the liquid from the can of beans into a measuring cup and add 1/4 pack of Grace creamed coconut and enough water to make four cups of liquid. Place liquids in a pot with beans, scallion, garlic and thyme, and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste, add Scotch bonnet pepper, add the rice and stir for a few seconds. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover tightly and cook for 30 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove Scotch bonnet pepper before serving.

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