New Haitian restaurant in Hillsborough brings Caribbean food closer to home – My Central Jersey

HILLSBOROUGH — Haitian restaurant Chez Elody opened in the space that was once Jamaican restaurant Little Island in the township’s Kingsbridge Center.
A native of Jamaica, co-owner Diana Henry said the two cuisines offer similar food but with different spices.
“The spices are Mommy’s secret,” Henry said. “You’ll just have to come taste them.”
Despite challenges the pandemic has placed on the restaurant industry, Henry said she and her Haitian partner in life and business, Jacques Ramone, wanted to open Chez Elody because they knew other people like them were tired of traveling more than 30 minutes to get good Caribbean food.
For the past six weeks, take-out and curbside pickup have been doing brisk business. Henry is looking to add delivery through DoorDash.
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“We’ve lived in the area quite some time now, and I’ve been to two Jamaican restaurants in that time that were 40 minutes to an hour away,” Henry said. “I was sick of that. I easily could have done a Jamaican restaurant, because I’m so familiar with the food, but I figured, let me try something different, a different nationality.”
Chez Elody is named after Henry’s 3-year-old daughter and the French word for “at home.” It means At Elody’s home.
Chez Elody is the first restaurant venture for both Henry and Ramone, but her mother had a restaurant in their native Jamaica, from which she emigrated in 2004. She said Ramone’s mother was a big inspiration for the menu.
“The people are very receptive,” Henry said. “They like it so far. Not a lot of people know about it yet because we have to do more advertising and promotion, but those that come, come back.”
Among the eatery’s fans are Mayor Doug Tomson, who Henry said has been extremely helpful, along with Business Advocate David Kois and various departments involved in inspections and permits.
The mayor described Chez Elody as top-notch Haitian food.
“I had a chance to sample it a couple weeks ago, and it was amazing,” Tomson said. “I love the griot, which is fried pork. Everything is made to order, it’s fresh, and they can make it with as little or as much spice as you like. You do not want to miss this here in Hillsborough.
“I love the story behind the name,” the mayor continued. “This is what small businesses are about … family. They opened in the middle of this pandemic, which is no small feat for anyone, let alone a restaurant. We need to support them because they are going to be here to support the town in the long term.”
Henry said her signature dish is griot. She serves the specially spiced fried pork with fried plantain. Another popular dish is red snapper also served with plantain, as well as friti, a fried yam dumpling spiced with scallions, onions and pepper.
As for opening a restaurant restricted during a global pandemic, Henry said, “I rise better under pressure. This always has been one of my dreams to open a restaurant. My mom had one when I was younger. I watched how she used to work, and I used to help here.”
The pandemic hasn’t been the only challenge.
While the township has been extremely helpful, banks were not, said Henry, who financed 95 percent of the venture with Ramone. The rest came from a family friend.
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“At one point, I thought of turning back,” Henry said. “But seeing all the customers come, and the feedback they give has been worthwhile. They tell me how good the food is all the time.”  
Henry said she didn’t think the growing Black Lives Matter movement has had much impact on the restaurant, otherwise, it would be even busier.
Kingsbridge Center also includes eateries that offer Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Italian food.
Chez Elody
Where: 378 South Branch Road in Hillsborough
Contact: 908-308-8928, chezelodyhaitiancuisine.com.
Email: bmakin@gannettnj.com
Bob Makin covers Rutgers for MyCentralJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. To get unlimited access to his informative and entertaining work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


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