When ‘Fintech’ in Canada grew too cagey, an impromptu year of travel became Andrew Nam’s saving grace. It only took a friendly nudge to encourage him to leave corporate finance/technology behind for what became a 14-month self-exploration journey to see the world.
How did he do it? On a budget, of course. Backpacking, defined as independent and super-low-cost international travel [which explains its unmistakable attractiveness to students and creatives] was the vehicle he, like many others seeking authenticity in the places they visit, took off in.
For those unfamiliar, backpacking mostly involves cheap flights, low budget room and board, authentic, people-centred experiences and resourceful ideas like volunteering or bartering skills and services for lodging – hence the popularity of Couchsurfing, i.e. staying with a local inside their home, as opposed to renting it.
This mode of exploration introduced Nam to the realness of hostel culture. Being a free spirit, he fell in love with the concept and here we are today at 74 Lady Musgrave Road, the home of Ragamuffin Hostel & Coffee Bar — his first business.
It’s a chic, cosy, inclusive spot…elevated rustic with a homely feel; the centrality of which makes it even more delightful. He tells BUZZ that as much as the concept is his, the beautiful execution was entirely a team [now turned family] effort. A quick rapid-fire session confirmed this.
Counter? Designed by my mother, made by a local carpenter.
Lighting fixtures? David Myrie of Exquisite Wicker.
Coffee table? Mazola… a Kenyan artist whom I met randomly one day, he lives here now.
Menu? Wall Art? Mostly by our Creative Director, Rebecca Levy, a brilliant artist and muralist who was instrumental in bringing this whole thing to life; and some are by Susanna Missenberger, who is part of the team – she’s also a great artist and muralist.
Pastry? Andrene, our barista from Deaf Can who is here today makes all the pastries, she is really amazing. We also have Dream Bowls JA açaí here and Veggie Campus around the back.
And the name, Ragamuffin? “I used to be very scared, once… fearful of life… backpacking taught me to just dive into the unknown, be unconventional… a bit of a rebel. When you have one bag with all your clothes inside and just two shirts, you learn to think differently. I wanted a name that is clearly Jamaican, and it also reminds me of that side of myself.
Nam laughs reminiscently and we continue to unravel the story of how his business came to be, and why he’s so intentional with the look and feel. Another catalyst was the experiential side of the business. While travelling, he realised “people don’t think much of Kingston besides what they see on the news,” and wanted to change that.
After searching for a year, “looking for anything…even if it was a shack somewhere in the bush.” It was, he explained, “very scary and daunting”, to take on this “massive renovation” with no prior business knowledge. Especially without knowing “the difference between a nail and a screw and with zero contracting experience…now, after months of painstaking trial and error, designing and working with a tight budget, I think I can build a house”.
Although it was a much bigger undertaking than his initial plan, [especially after a car crashed into the storefront not long after opening] he was determined to make it work. It wasn’t ready for his initial date, but he opened just in time on Carnival Sunday. He was excited to share that they’ve had d/Deaf backpackers for the first time recently, and he was able to check them in using sign language he picked up from the baristas.
We’ve already buzzed about the hostel, what of the café?
“It was my mom’s idea… she suggested I open one in front to keep things afloat in the slower periods. He didn’t want a “commercialised cookie-cutter version of overseas coffee shops,” but an undeniably Jamaican feel.
The location was bustling with creatives, entrepreneurs, students, backpackers and pop-ins for Deaf Can coffee while we spoke, so we can clearly see its viability. Plus, due to a series of arts and culture events, the business is gaining popularity.
What’s next? “I’d love to expand the alcoholic beverages at the bar and probably do some partnerships around that later…hopefully more collabs, experience tours around Kingston and arts events, I would love for Ragamuffin to become a creative hub. The people want more, we not finished yet.”