By Tadia Toussaint
Anyone who walks into Katra Lounge on a Tuesday night will find the Boom Boom girls in their Haitian designers T-shirts serving everything from tassot koden (fried turkey) to the very popular griot ban-nann peze sandwich.
Fred Lhérisson Jr. brings Haitian culture to life in the city that never sleeps every Tuesday and Thursday. After realizing that few to no restaurants served Haitian cuisine, Haitian alcoholic beverages, nor played Konpa in Manhattan, the Aramark sales executive gave birth to “Kompa Tuesdays.”
The sales executive often took clients out for lunch and dinner to build rapports and relationships but felt like he could never share his culture with them.
“It bugged me that I could not take them to a place where they could get pate and Barbancourt.”
The former Sprint corporate salesperson, who travels to Haiti once a year said, “Being a part of the culture and identifying and loving the culture can be two different things.”
Born in Manhattan, Lhérisson moved to Haiti and lived there until the age of 5. When he moved back, he lived in Uniondale where he said he began to really immerse himself in the culture. He attended Rutgers University where he served as president of the Haitian Club, organizing events featuring artists like Alan Cave. He graduated with a degree in economics, though his father thought his gift of gab made him the perfect candidate for law school.
“I started buying Konpa albums and attending Haitian events,” he said.
Leaving dozens of Haitian events dissatisfied after not being greeted on entrance or lack of customer service made Lhérisson conclude that he didn’t “want to be a part of the problem.”
“There’s so much richness within the Haitian culture and we struggle with how to share that.”
His solution — Haitian Happy Hour, which he launched in January 2011 and eventually turned into Kompa Tuesday under his hospitality company Boom Boom Entertainment.
“It’s a platform for Konpa lovers, Haitian or not, to listen to Konpa and then some,” he said. “We now serve Haitian cuisine and serve Barbancourt.”
Initially about 30 people participated. Now more than 100 people fill Katra every Tuesday and take part in Kompa Tuedays, where signature Haitian dishes are integrated in their menu.
Finding the perfect venue— wasn’t easy.
“I always feel like I have to sell us [Haitian people],” Lhérisson admitted, explaining that finding a venue that serviced the Haitian demographic was a difficult challenge.
Keeping his word in commitments and developing strong relationships with the help of his partner Saurel Celestin is what has kept Boom Boom entertainment programs running successfully.
Kompa Thursday Live, which launched last year at Milk River in Brooklyn, features everything from spoken word, kizomba dance performance to traditional Haitian band performance. It just relaunched last month after a 4-month hiatus.