I sat down with the owner of Hyacinth’s Haven located in the historical area of Harlem called Striver’s Row to discuss her menu, the inspiration behind her restaurant/bar, and some challenges she has faced.
Dominek: I have been to your establishment several times and truly consider it a gem in Harlem, but explain to the readers exactly what is Hyacinth’s Haven.
Hyacinth: Hyacinth Haven is the Cheers bar of Harlem! Our customers actually christened it as such because when you come in it is like everyone knows your name, everyone gets along, and it’s just a happy haven to come out and chill. It’s a great place to meet and greet new and old people in the neighborhood as well.
D: How long have you been open?
H: A little over two years now.
D: And if you had to describe the crowd that comes to Hyacinth?
H: Our crowd is an amazing diverse mix of young and old, and every kind of ethic background you can think of basically. It is a melting pot of customers that comes through and that is why Hyacinth’s Haven is so special to me.
D: How do you want people to feel when they visit your establishment?
H: So when you walk into Hyacinth Haven you will feel that comfy homey feeling, and that great energy level. This is a place you will grow to love and possibly not want to share it with others. But we do want others to know we exist, so please share. [laughter] But this is a great place to come in and enjoy regardless if it is a date, by yourself, or with your family. Just a great spot to come and chill and hang out and spend money of course. [laughter]
D: Let’s talk about your dinner menu in particular. Can you tell me what is your source for inspiration, and how it played a part in your menu?
H: That comes from my Jamaican culture and my dad is Cuban, and also being raised in Harlem. So the menu was designed around all of those things put together. I am a foodie and I have eaten in some of the best places in New York City and abroad as well. I want our food to be something that is simply but delicious.
D: What is your signature dish and why?
H: One of my signature dishes is the Haven Burger. It is a jerk burger and I love a nice burger, and that is one of my favorite dishes as well. I wanted to create something that was a little different, and also since Jamaica is known for jerk seasoning.
D: What dish have you made so many times you could cook it blindfolded?
H: The oxtail sliders!
D: I think also because you are located in Harlem, and Jamaican food doesn’t have a huge presence here, and we are deprived of good ol’ Jamaican food. You know the oxtail sliders are my favorite!
D: What is your favorite dish and why?
H: Honestly because I love rice so much one of my favorite dishes is the Jerk chicken breast with rice, vegetables, and sweet plantains.
D: Can you quickly highlight your brunch menu for our brunch connoisseurs out there?
H: Again it just plays into my background of Jamaican American theme where it is unique. One of the items we had on the menu included the french toast that is on Jamaican bread which is simply delicious. We will be bringing it back for the warmer months because it it has ice cream and bacon crumbled on top. Our brunch menu has as a mixture of things to please different pallets and a diverse crowd.
D: I love the shrimp and grits that is on the menu as well.
H: Yes, that is a pretty popular dish amongst many.
D: On your brunch menu you have ackee. Can you describe what ackee is to the readers who aren’t familiar with it?
H: Ackee is a fruit we use as a vegetable. Ackee and saltfish is a national dish in Jamaica. Ackee is almost like a scrambled egg and it is flavorless really, and it takes on the flavor of what you pair it with. In Jamaica it is normally paired with saltfish, dumplings, or plantain. Ackee is something you can eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I have decided to put in on my menu as a breakfast item and most people love it. It is one of those dishes you either love or don’t.
D: I have noticed that your drink menu is displayed on a chalkboard which is different from other restaurants/bars. What is your inspiration behind your cocktail menu?
H: I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing and I love to be innovative. I decided to put the cocktail menu on the wall because it is so huge, and we are known for classic cocktails. Most people take us for a bar but we have amazing food which you know because you have eaten here so many times. And I have to thank one of our initial bartenders that really inspired me to make this a classic cocktail bar so I can’t take credit for it.
D: You can take credit for hiring an inspiring bartender.
H: Yeah [laughter]
D: Name one drink that you can only get here and no where else in Harlem?
H: Its called the Haven and it is a take on a pineapple coconut martini and I created that myself. I know you said one but there is another one as well called the Striver’s Row. I wanted to pay homage and I am very proud to be part of this historic part of Harlem. You will not find this cocktail anywhere else.
D: With such a diverse cocktail menu the bartender plays a big part in the “Hyacinth Experience”. What qualities do you look for in a bartender?
H: Experience is key along with personality and the ability to communicate with our customers on a level that shows the customer they have a great bartender taking care of them.
Photos Courtesy of Hyacinth’s Haven
D: I have noticed since you have opened in 2014 your drink menu has expanded. Do any of your bartenders have signature drinks?
H: Our bartenders do have signature drinks and also customers have helped to add to the menu as well. One of drinks that I had to put on the menu is the Brooklyn Flower.
D: Tell me more!
H: A customer came in and asked if we heard of the Brooklyn Flower and we told him no. The customer described it to us that it included Hendricks Gin and some other items. Our bartender made it once and then continued perfecting it and then the drink got added to the menu.
D: Well I am a gin lover so I have to try that.
D: What was your career prior to having your own business?
H: Prior to this I was in the corporate world for 15 years and I was in investment banking which I absolutely loved!
D: Do you believe your experience in your prior career helped you in your current business?
H: Oh I would have not started this business without that experience. Could not have! I took what I learned there and applied it to Hyacinth’s Haven. The demand and expectation were so high for me in that role and it helped me deal with the even higher expectations and demands of the hospitality industry. Which is why I think I am still here two years after leaving my career field.
D: From the moment you acted on the concept of Hyacinth’s Haven to your opening day, how long did it take?
H: It took a while, but maybe about a year. There is alot to do before you get to this stage of opening this business.
D: I know you have lived in Harlem for a long time, but can you tell me why you picked this part of Harlem for Hyacinth’s Haven?
H: I always feels like a spot needs a neighborhood bar or restaurant and there were none in this vicinity or not enough. Also to be in Striver’s Row was very important to me since I grew up in Harlem and always loved this area.
D: I understand you are fully committed to this establishment. How many hours in 7 day period do you work?
H: It is hard to count because even after I leave here my day doesn’t end because there is so much I have to do. On average 14-16 hours days are a norm, and it is probably because I am so hands on. I am working on finding a clone of me right now! [laughter]
D: What are some or one of your challenges you have faced when it comes to owning a business?
H: Hiring and keeping people in this service industry because it is so challenging and I didn’t know it was like this. No one is committed to you and some just hear dollar signs. I have to admit I have been really fortunate to have some really awesome workers and bartenders that have helped and supported me, but for the most part just keeping and maintaining staff in this industry is difficult.
D: Name your biggest achievement?
H: I think just opening this bar/restaurant because I didn’t know that I could actually do it. I guess I didn’t know how hard it was, and if I knew I probably wouldn’t have done it.
D: Do you have business mentors? And if so, how big of an influence did they play in your business?
H: I don’t know if I would say I have business mentors. I have kind of educated myself by just watching others and taking classes to help me learn something. I don’t like to follow what other people are doing because I believe in being a trendsetter.
D: When you hear someone say “I think owning a restaurant or bar looks fun” what do you think?
H: Yeah I use to think. It looks fun and easy, but until you actually get into owning and seeing all the moving parts that it takes to make a business successful.
D: With the restaurant scene really taking off in Harlem with the fast gentrification why should a prospective diner come to your establishment?
H: We are offer what you won’t get else where. We offer a mixture of classic cocktails that really delivers what you are paying for along with an inviting atmosphere.
D: What piece of advice would you give to those who are looking to get into the restaurant business or just go into any business for themselves?
H: I believe if it is your passion and you love it you will succeed at it. If you want to get into any business make sure you educate yourself and talk to as many people as you can. I took a course at NYU for a restaurant management and that helped me alot.
D: What does 2017 hold for Hyacinth’s?
H: I haven’t thought that far in advance but I hope to grow our customer base, and change up our concept just a tad bit because I am so proud of my culture. What I mean by that is by adding a little more sophisticated food to our menu, but not straying too far from my culture. You always have to change because you cannot remain stagnant in this industry.
D: Thank you for your time Hyacinth and sharing with our readers!
H: Thank you for having me!
2374 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, New York, NY 10030