Andrew Walcott, founder, Fusion East restaurantThe restaurateur brought fine Caribbean and soul food to East New York
When Andrew Walcott founded Fusion East, the beloved East New York restaurant that merges Caribbean and soul food, he was responding to a gap in his community. To get the kind of cuisine he wanted, he had to leave his neighborhood. “It just got tiring,” as Walcott describes the challenge of getting to upscale restaurants. He would drive to Downtown Brooklyn or Harlem, a long journey. “Then you got to hope there’s not a line once you get to the restaurant. I knew there was a community need,” he told us in our podcast.
What was it that Walcott couldn’t find in East New York? Quality dining that represented the neighborhood’s own demographics. “The neighborhood is predominately black Caribbean and black American, so I wanted a menu that would reflect those demographics. So you’ll see oxtail for the Caribbeans and pork chops for the African Americans. If you go inside, say, Gateway Mall, you have your all-American options–your Applebee’s, Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings–so even though they are competition for us, none of them have the exact menu that we have,” Walcott says. “We try to appeal directly to the African American and African Caribbean marketplace that surrounds us in the neighborhood.”
Fusion East opened its doors in 2015 on Elton Street near the sprawling mall. The restaurant is a hit locally, but also draws people into East New York for the culinary experience. The space offers classic dishes in a modern setting, with new takes on jerk chicken wings, jerk salmon, chicken and waffles, shrimp & grits, and roti. Walcott and his team recently opened a second location, the Fusion East Cafe, at the Kingsboro Psychiatric Center.
Walcott has many career accomplishments–he served in the U.S. Air Force, is a corporate attorney and a certified public accountant–but before Fusion East he had never opened a restaurant. “I reached out to other friends of mine who were in the industry,” Walcott recalls, to hear feedback about his original idea. “I would also speak to attorneys who have been involved in the process,” who he asked about getting an operating license, a liquor license, and other regulatory questions. “The biggest component,” he said, was “talking to people who already owned their restaurants.”
Walcott is well aware that opening a restaurant for the first time does not always end in success. His words of advice for budding entrepreneurs in any neighborhood: “Do your research. Get to know people in the community. The community board can be a great resource. I’ve been on the board 20 years and the people there definitely want to see more economic activity. They can be a huge resource. Get involved with the local community so you can meet the movers and shakers.”