The doubles life of George X

Cedriann J Martin records a day in the life of a T&T doubles vendor – and explains her famous brand name

Photograph by Shirley Bahadur (Digitally altered by MEP to place sign in background)

The milestones of Sandra Sammy’s adult life are marked with doubles.

“When I got married, my husband introduced me to the business,” she says. At first she helped fry the bara at home or stir the coalpot cauldrons of channa. In time she started selling on her own outside Brooklyn Bar in Woodbrook, while he cycled to Fatima College, a few blocks away, to sell breakfast to schoolboys. Eventually the authorities insisted all doubles vendors had to have a cashier, so her solitary gig at the corner stopped.

“That was about 15 years ago,” she calculates. “Not long before we divorced.”

Until then she’d helped build a brand named for her husband, George. When she found herself a single parent of two children she decided to set up her own doubles operation – about seven feet away, on the same corner.
“That’s all I knew.  It took plenty courage. It had its ups and downs too. When I now started off, people knew him more than me,” she remembers.

But the dynamics slowly changed. Sammy was always there on public holidays. And if George missed a day, his customers came to her instead. Some divorced women began taking a “girl power” stand with their morning meal.

“One of them asked me why I don’t label my doubles. She said I should call it ‘George X’. And I said, ‘Okay, that sounds good’,” Sammy recalls. And so George and George X became ironic options on the same iconic corner, until the omnipotent authorities asked her to move, a couple years ago.

Now she sells further down Carlos Street. She perches on a towering red wrought-iron chair, taking orders, collecting money and dishing out change. Two young women make up customers’ requests. Some orders she knows by heart.  There’s shelter from the rain and room for feminine touches like a table for customers to pick up their straws and napkins, call-in orders, and a board to announce changes of hours or days off in advance.

Not that there are many days off. She works Mondays to Saturdays. Her days start at 1am, when a team of four starts cooking the doubles components – channa, bara and an army of condiments, including sweet mango, shadon beni, cucumbers and pepper sauces. She’s refined her recipe over the years. No curry, MSG or butter in the channa; bara that aren’t too greasy; cups of channa alone for the hardcore weight-watchers.

The team gets to Port of Spain in time for a 6am start. They’re gone before lunch. She takes a two-hour nap before beginning preparations for the next day: soaking channa and chopping garlic, chive and spices.

In this way she’s raised her children. When she started selling doubles they were 40 cents a pop. Now they cost TT$4. “These days you can’t become a millionaire…the ingredients are too expensive. But I would go as much as I can go in this business and then I would like one of the children to keep it up, but I don’t know about that.

“I like my work. I get to meet all sorts of people, and you can talk and laugh and take your mind off your problems for a while.

“At first I thought I would never make it, but I did,” she says. “I had to.”

Doubles definition:

Doubles are the quintessential street food – fast, cheap and available everywhere. Fried flatbreads are seasoned with turmeric and paired with a seasoned channa (chickpea) filling. Trinidadians are big on condiments, and doubles come with many options – everything from coconut chutney to sweet mango or pommecythere sauces and peppers, all sorts.