The Haitian population may be one of the fastest growing in the county, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to find local restaurants serving legit Haitian food here.
Maybe that’s because Haitian-Americans like myself love our home cooking, or maybe we’re just picky about our comfort food. I know in my case it’s hard to beat my mom’s cooking. (Her Haitian-style black mushroom rice, diri ak djon djon, is so good it makes me want to cry.) But when she raved about a takeout restaurant in Boynton Beach, a Haitian-owned place called Ti Manmi’s Kitchen, I had to check it out.
What did I think of the place? Let’s just say we drive down from West Palm Beach at least once a week, or sometimes even more, because it’s that good.
I enjoy going there because they really give you a bang for your buck with their large portions. They have amazing lemonade that they make themselves, and it reminds me of my favorite childhood drink. They have a large variety of other drinks including Cola Couronne (a delicious fruit champagne soda), plus pineapple and watermelon sodas, all popular among Haitians.
Ti Manmi’s, which means “little mama’s,” is owned by Alex Jerome and Pharah “Jessica” Jerome, a Haitian-American Boynton couple in their 20s. They opened the restaurant in May 2018 in the space where another Haitian takeout spot operated. Their place serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The menu includes homey favorites like labouyi (a cinnamon porridge), legume (a mixture of vegetables mashed and served with rice and beef or chicken), and whole fried fish, which is Ti Manmi’s most popular dish.
The fish, usually yellowtail or red snapper, ranges from $25 to $30 and is usually prepared by 28-year-old Alex Jerome himself. To his customers and friends, he’s known as “Chef Zoe.” He started cooking about four years ago, taking inspiration from watching his mom at work in the kitchen.
“I love what I do,” says the native of Haiti’s Artibonite region who keeps a side job at Dunkin’ Donuts.
But it’s his mom, Marie Derivierre, who is the real force in the kitchen at Ti Manmi’s.
“My mom has been a cook for over 10 years and worked at a couple different restaurants in Delray Beach, and people are in love with her food. Since I have a love for the industry and have someone to cook for me, I decided to make the dream come true,” he told me when I visited some days ago.
Besides his mom and the restaurant’s handful of workers, Jerome’s sister, Kettia Dorvilma, also helps out. At times, Haitian music plays from a huge speaker right outside the restaurant, blessing the area with culture and authenticity.
Jerome’s wife Jessica, 27, born in Saint-Marc, Haiti, is a good cook herself — she learned from her grandmother as a child. But she leaves the restaurant cooking to Jerome, as she is a stay-at-home mom raising their two kids, Angelica, 5, and Aiden, 1. Having their own restaurant allows them more flexibility, she says.
“I get to spend more time with our kids,” says Jessica.
With the benefits of owning a business there are of course, challenges. Jessica says customer service is a challenge of owning a restaurant: “You can never please everybody.”
Alex Jerome tells me that the most challenging thing about owning a restaurant is the competition, including restaurants around Ti Manmi’s.
To gain an edge, he offers a loyalty card program, a perk that not many Haitian restaurants offer. Through the program, when Ti Manmi’s guests purchase five full plates, they receive $4 off their sixth plate. Continue reading