As restaurants with similar cuisines seem to thrive in the region, Haitian establishments with similar potential do not reach the same levels of recognition
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Haitian restaurants are paving their way in the South Florida food scene with traditional creole dishes. A quick look at popular review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, or USA Today does not tell the same story. No Haitian establishments are ranked among the top restaurants in the state of Florida, home to half a million Haitians.
Many factors can explain why so many Haitian restaurants are behind the competition. Some suffer from weak management and poor customer service. Until recently, you could still find Haitian restaurants who did not accept credit or debit cards.
For some Haitian restaurant managers, extremely demanding clients are some of the biggest challenges they face. Others mention having difficulty importing ingredients from Haiti due to the present situation in the country, notably the fuel crisis. Ongoing inflation in the US also obliges them to increase their prices, creating tension with certain customers.
Yelp, a popular platform for consumer reviews, offers a list of the 10 best Haitian restaurants in Florida, most of which feature menus comprised only of traditional Haitian dishes.
Founded by Gregs Romulus and his wife Wilda Turenne, Gregs Cookout has only been in business for 3 months. It has a 5-star rating on Yelp and is ranked 9th in Yelp’s top 10 for Haitian restaurants in Florida. Romulus, the chef, who kindly indulged AyiboPost in an interview, discovered his passion for cooking at 11 years old. He learned to cook thanks to his mother and grandmother. “It is a passion for me,” he says.
To expand his culinary know-how, Romulus attended the Coeurs-Unis School in Haiti, and later moved to the US where he worked at several restaurants before deciding to open his own.
Gregs Cookout now employs 6 people and specializes in Haitian cuisine. “We use fresh ingredients to cook and prepare our food when people make an order, he explains. But with the crisis, some ingredients like spices and yeast are not available. It is [therefore] difficult to please the client all of the time,” adds Chef Romulus.
Tamara Beliard Rodrigez, is the producer of Caribbean Cookout on Island TV. According to her, economic factors are chief among the reasons why Haitian restaurants are behind the curve. It is difficult for them to get loans, financial support, and grants from financial institutions.
Rodriguez adds that the Cuban restaurants that have been around for a long time offer the same dishes as Haitian restaurants such as rice, plantain, fish, chicken, etc. However, they attract many patrons based on their presentation, decor, and the atmosphere of the restaurant – like background music for example.
“Haitian restaurants need to raise the bar, she continues. The dishes in our kitchen are very succulent. The atmosphere and the way waiters dress must be part of the package to attract more customers. We must be able to offer an experience.”
Rodriguez also notes there is a lot of potential for novelty and representation. In her eyes, one of the best aspects of Haitian cuisine lies in its diversity. “Each region in Haiti has a unique way of preparing its dishes. So Haitian cuisine can have a variety of [iterations] in Florida,” she adds.
Furthermore, some Haitian restaurants do not publicize their origins due to the situation back home.
Noami’s Garden, rated number one in Yelp’s top 10 Haitian restaurants in Miami, has earned 4 and a half stars from its Yelp reviewers. Founded in the late 1970s by Yaron and Shula Yemini, it was a vegetarian health food truck first. In 1998, Noami’s started selling Haitian-Caribbean food at the request of the local community. Today, Noami and Omaar Yemini manage Naomi’s Garden.
“We have brought on new growth and expanded service into more of the surrounding communities. During the week, guests can also enjoy music and art events in the beautiful garden-seating area,” explained Noami’s founders.
Despite the fact that Haiti is well-known for its spicy cuisine, no Haitian restaurant figures in the top 20 best spicy cuisines from ‘Miami Spice’, promoted by the ‘Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau’.
One hypothesis could be low digital literacy, leaving Haitian restaurants less competitive in a digital world, with few of their clients knowing how to deal with it.
There is also a connection with the overall revenue of Haitians as they are among the poorest communities in the U.S. The cycle of poverty probably affects Haitian businesses as well.
Since Haitian restaurants don’t necessarily attract many foreign consumers, this could be another factor that prevents them benefiting from good rankings.
For Haitians who want to show their support for Haitian restaurants, it is not enough to visit and order their food. Leaving a review with one of the top restaurant review sites will go a long way. According to Modern Restaurant Management even a one-star rating can help businesses get a 5–9% increase in revenue.
The data also shows that at least 90% of diners go to a review site to pick a restaurant. Comments on cleanliness are particularly impactful for restaurants where 81 percent of consumers say they will not go to a restaurant if customers reported cleanliness issues in their reviews.
Cover photo : © Merlande Brooks