Fritai is one of the hottest restaurant spots in New Orleans, and it’s serving Haitian food, a cuisine that some would say is a close cousin to Louisiana’s national cuisine. Founded by Boston-born and raised entrepreneur Charly Pierre and his soulmate Eva, Fritai sits inside New Orleans’ St. Roch market. The way the foodie enterprise has caught on, it’s a matter of time before there’s a Fritai every twelve miles radius of New Orleans, and all over the 50 United States.
While some have debated as to whether Haitian food needs to be modified to attain wider appeal, Fritai has not downgraded its quality for palates…thank you very much! Now, let’s get to know more about the Fritai movement and its founder.
Above: Eva and Charly cooking up something good for Fritai regulars and new customers.
Kreyolicious: How did you learn how to cook?
I have been burning things before I could remember. Cooking was a very natural love. Alongside my mother, I would watch her techniques and apply it to mine once she wasn’t home. As a teen, I would constantly be cooking for myself. At age fifteen, I started at The East Side Bar and Grille at the salad station and prep. From there, I moved up the line to lead, until I graduated and received a second-place culinary scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University.
There I received my associates in Culinary Arts and bachelors in Restaurant Management. While in school, I worked as a line cook at the Bedford Villagr Inn, which is a resort with three fine dining restaurants under one roof. I would honestly say I learned more of my basic skills at the BVI than anywhere else. I was immerrsed in the fire and I was enjoying it. From there, I moved back to Boston after graduation to learn the front of the house.
Ah, some Haitian food by Fritai.
Kreyolicious: Being from Boston, moving to New Orleans was taking a leap somehow?
It was definitely a leap! A semi-well planned leap. I first decided I want to move in 2009, but didn’t actually go forth with it until sept 2015 with Eva. My first trip was for a women chef’s conference which the student leadership group—-[for which] I was Vice President accompanied my school’s female chefs. Between these times, I was back and forth nearly every year taking in the culture and people. I primarily fell in love with the food, then the unique brass music.
Kreyolicious: When did it first occur to you that opening a restaurant would be a good idea?
It was always a focus to open my own place, but with good resources and Eva by my side, it all seemed possible now more than ever. We didn’t have much money, but we were smart, savvy and had a vision. We were looking for a local place in our neighborhood until we contacted the market and came for a meeting.
Kreyolicious: By all accounts, Fritai is a hit in New Orleans.
Haha. We are doing pretty well considering we are heading into the cities slow summer season. Our regulars are the ones who really support us the most.
Above: Griyo and bannan peze dish prepared for a Fritai fanatic. Photo: Fritai.
Kreyolicious: What sort of feedback have you been getting from customers and patrons? When did you realize you were getting somewhere?
Dishes like our smothered greens—legim—our griyo plate and the Fritai Sandwich keep people coming back! And [on] Yelp, 5 out of 5 to this date is a good sign!
Kreyolicious: How did you initially get word out about the restaurant?
The market has a great marketing team along with the word of mouth to our industry friends.
Kreyolicious: Do you see yourself writing a cookbook at one point?
Sure. Never thought of that, but if it means I can make more money to buy more cars I’m with it!
Kreyolicious: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a restaurant or a food business?
Not many are built for this. If you really want to open a business, I say get the most experience you can get. Take your time and work up the line to learn every aspect. Also, be patient. You’re not always gonna be winning, but you reward is working for yourself with your ideas.
Kreyolicious: Where do you see Fritai a decade from now?
A hole in the wall restaurant…still doing our simple but creative dishes. I want to keep Fritai’s food cheap and accessible.
[Main photo credit: Molly Friedman]