A cultural connection on Keene’s Main Street
“It’s more than a business. It’s more than a restaurant. It’s a cultural connection.”
Yahso Jamaican Grille on Keene’s Main Street is all that, and more. Thanks to owner Gail Somers’s vision
of uniting people around food and culture, and her wish to share her love of her native cuisine and of
her adopted city, the restaurant offers haven and celebration set to Caribbean rhythms.
Yahso opened in 2019 and was a learning experience. Gail calls it her “test kitchen,” in which she learned
which Jamaican dishes brought her customers back, and which to adapt for American tastes. She learned
about the holiday and school cycles that affect Keene’s Main Street businesses.
She also learned not only that Keene had an appetite for Black food and culture, but that customers
traveled from throughout Southern N.H. and even Western Mass. for it.
After one year, she had a choice: She could expand her 20-seat restaurant or lease a larger and more
visible space three blocks away. Conversations with the Community Loan Fund turned into a loan that
helped her move.
“I immediately thought you were different. When we talked it was about: What does your business need?
I got a sense that there was a partnership, beyond just a financial partnership,” Gail says. She also knew
she’d need other resources as her business grew.
Yahso moved to the new location in June 2020, just after the pandemic hit, and sit-down dining was shut off. Gail was an early user of online ordering and delivery services, which kept Yahso going until
seated dining was allowed.
There were months when she wondered if she’d done the right thing, but as the only Main Street business
owner of color and offering Black culture, she says, she felt a community responsibility.
That responsibility extends well beyond Yahso’s walls. Gail is on the local YMCA board and heads
up its social justice committee. She volunteers on the city’s ad hoc racial justice committee, which
has recommended ways Keene can become more welcoming and diverse, and on the statewide Business Alliance for People of Color.
“That’s my passion—using whatever outlet, whether it’s the business, my professional background, or work on a committee—to move the needle on creating a more diverse and welcoming environment,” she says.
“Because I love my Keene community.”
This article was published in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s 2021 annual report.