Diaspora

Haitian Shop Celebrates Independence, Seeks To Remain In Park Slope – Patch

PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN — Haiti celebrates 219 years of independence on January 1, and a popular Park Slope Haitian gourmet shop specializing in treats from the Caribbean nation is using the event to kick off what it calls “Operation Soup Joumou.”
Named after the decedent pumpkin soup formerly denied to Haitian slaves and now traditionally served on Haitian Independence day, the shop, Bonbon Lakay, seeks to raise needed funds to remain open — $100,000 by the end of January, to be exact.
Despite glowing reviews and loyal customers, owner Edgina Desormeau said she’s faced “setback after setback” since moving the business from her apartment to a Fifth Avenue storefront in the summer of 2021.
“It’s either we go all out and ask for the help we need,” Desormeau said, “or unfortunately, we walk away we close. And it just makes no sense to have come this far to just walk away.”

The special independence day soup — which Bonbon Lakay is taking pre-orders for now — is only one of the store’s many offerings.
Bonbon Lakay offers a mix of cooked meals and baked items as well as imported gourmet Haitian goods.
Some of the store’s most popular items include Haitian beef and chicken patties, and a unique cookie made with a famous Haitian fudge, dous makos, imported directly from the LaBarre factory in Haiti.
“It was a fun little experiment that turned into a hit,” said Desormeau, 33, “and now we sell them by the dozens and ship them nationwide and internationally.”
Desormeau also started a pay-it-forward meal program, where shoppers can purchase a free meal for a hungry passerby in need.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, said Desormeau, who came to the U.S. from Haiti when she was only 12-years-old.
Since 2018, she operated a scaled-down version of Bonbon Lakay from her apartment while working her day job in PR. But after the pandemic hit, she decided she wanted to commit to her dream of bringing Haitian treats to the neighborhood.
After moving into the Fifth Avenue storefront near Fifth Street, she discovered the basement floods with alarming regularity. Hurricane Ida filled the space with five feet of water, Desormeau said, and her insurance didn’t cover any of the damage.
“Nothing was covered,” she said,”nothing. They gave us not a penny back.”
Various COVID variant spikes have hit her business too, making it hard not only to sell but to also retain workers.
Desormeau went to desperate measures to keep the shop open, including giving up her apartment, leaving her “borderline homeless,” she said, and working alone in the store, simultaneously cooking and baking while also managing customers and cleaning.

Through the hardship, Desormeau said that hearing from customers how much the shop means to them keeps her going.
“After almost after every worst day I could have possibly had, we get a good review,” she said. “We get an email about how we made somebody’s day — they found a treat on our website that they haven’t had in 10-15 years… We’ll get a customer walking in saying how much they love it here and how they are so proud it exists and how much the culture needs it and Brooklyn needs this.”
For Operation Soup Joumou, Desormeau didn’t want to ask for donations, but rather is asking for customers to buy soup joumou for independence day, hire the shop’s catering service, rent the store for events or to purchase pay-it-forward meals for others.

And since launching her appeal to her customers, they’ve already responded in a surprising way, donating over $2,000 to Bonbon’s pay-it-forward program in under 24 hours.

Before yesterday, Desormeau estimates that customers spent $700 on pay-it-forward meals since the start of the program in June.
While still a long way to go for her goal of $100,000, Desormeau says she remains hopeful.
“In the context of running the simplest small business in New York City, it’s not a big number at all,” she said.
Even if the goal isn’t met and she’s forced to close up shop, Desormeau said she doesn’t want anyone to be surprised.
“This was our effort to have for us to have as few people say ‘I had no idea’ as possible,” Desormeau told Patch. “And so many people are proud of us and want us here. It’s like, okay: let’s give them an opportunity to help keep us here. “


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