This past June, Wesley Jean-Simon traveled to Leogane, Jacmel and other cities, observing the techniques employed by chefs throughout Haiti. His investment of time and money was instrumental in starting Zanmi, a Nostrand Avenue restaurant that opened in February.
“I put this time in to know my culture, my food, so I could come back and present it the way it’s supposed to be presented,” Jean-Simon said.
Initially, he said, business was booming, and the restaurant posted weekly sales of $5,000 to $6,000. That is, until mid-March, when New York City ordered the closure of non-essential businesses, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Like other restaurants, Zanmi offered takeout at first but soon discontinued it, after sales dropped to little more than $150 some days.
Recognizing the need to help others facing similar situations, Jean-Simon and other restaurant owners have organized and expanded the Haitian Business Coalition. Formed initially to assist restaurateurs, the coalition plans to provide education and support to other small business owners in the Haitian community who might need assistance during this period of vulnerability brought on by COVID-19. The virus had infected more than 67,500 city residents as of April 5.
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