Early on weekday mornings, while most of his family and neighbours are still asleep, Tyrell Auguste starts preparing for the day ahead – and his job as a pie vendor.
While the thought of waking up before sunrise five days a week to work as a vendor might be off-putting to many, the 20-year-old Auguste, of St Paul Street, Port of Spain says the freedom of being his own boss is worth the sacrifice.
The ability to make his own hours is just part of the reason he chose this job. He also hopes to be an example for other young people from his community to find a legal means of supporting themselves.
While selling his pies at the NP gas station on Eighth Avenue, Barataria, last Monday, Auguste spoke about his goals and what motivates him.
Growing up with his mother, Coreen, and younger brother, he was taught the value of money from an early age, seeing his mother struggle to support the family.
“I saw how hard she had it and I wanted to struggle while I was still young so when I get to her age, I can be comfortable and she could be comfortable as well, because she is part of the reason I work as hard as I do. Just watching her working extra hours, coming home late and still having food ready for us moved me to do that.”
Auguste credits his strong work ethic to these experiences and the guidance of his mother, who encouraged him to recognise and act on opportunities for change.
He took this philosophy seriously getting an after-school job as a supermarket bagboy when he was only 14.
“The managers told me it was illegal, but I was tall, so I passed for a 17-year-old. So it wasn’t a big problem.”
After finishing secondary school, Auguste found work as a server for the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It was in this environment he learned the importance of good customer service, a lesson that has stayed with him.
“I was the person that brought you the menu, your meals and your drinks. Here I really understood how important it was for you to develop a human connection with the people you serve.
“Even today I treat all my potential customers with respect, especially if I’m interacting with them for the first time.
“Also, because of the time I sell my pastries, I interact with a lot of customers who are now heading to work, so I make sure to give them some words of encouragement for the day ahead so they can remember it.”
At the Hyatt, Auguste found his passion for food: he would spend his spare time watching chefs prepare meals which he would later practise on his own time at home. The experience was eye-opening, and he thanked one chef in particular who encouraged him to take notes.
Eventually Auguste left the Hyatt to work in the kitchen at Five Islands Water Park in Chaguaramas. This was only temporary, as he realised he would be more comfortable working for himself.
After saving for two months – a total of $6,000 – Auguste decided it was time to take a leap of faith with his first venture into selling pastries.
Instead of making them himself, Auguste buys the pies from a bakery in Laventille at a wholesale price and sells them for a profit.
He originally started at a parlour in Barataria, where he worked last November, but relocated to the gas station nearby after being introduced to the owner by a mutual acquaintance.
His business has taken off to the point where he hired three other residents from his neighbourhood to help out.
“They saw me making my money and asked how they could be part of it too.
“I always welcome them, but I have to tell them that it’s hard work being out here every day. If you know you’re not willing to work hard, then it won’t make sense coming out."
But he wanted to help them, because: "Instead of leaving them home for them to get into trouble I wanted to come out and do something productive while earning a living.”
Auguste’s day begins at 4 am. He has time for a prayer, a quick workout and a shower before setting out to the bakery to pick up his goods.
By 5 am he is at his spot, ready to serve his customers, usually early-morning workers, police, gas station attendants and farmers who tend to crops over the highway.
He usually stays then until 10 am, when he goes home for a shower and a change of clothes before heading out to his second job, selling water at the corner of Broadway and South Quay, Port of Spain, until 5 pm.
It’s a daily routine from Monday to Friday with no breaks in, and while he admits it can be physically exhausting, he is passionate about what he does.
In Auguste’s recipe for success, there is no ingredient that can replace hard work. He also hopes he's an example for other youths in his community, riddled with negative stereotypes of gangs and crime. In areas where positive role models can be few and far between, he says the simplest gestures can sometimes make a big difference.