Sisters Caribbean Cuisine Owner, Marlyn Lawrie-Rogers, Satisfies the Soul
For the past 16 years, those seeking to treat their palate to a delicious serving of island dishes without leaving Harlem have learned to look no further than Sisters Caribbean Cuisine. With their opening in 1995, sisters Marlyn Lawrie-Rogers (owner) and Elsie Darrell (head chef) fused Trinidadian, Guyanese and Jamaican mainstays with soul food staples. Their vision has resulted in a menu that includes curried goat, stewed chicken, sautéed codfish, yams, collard greens and more. The flavorful combination of Caribbean and Southern inspired dishes has helped the restaurant carve a niche for itself amongst a plethora of restaurants.
Rolling out spoke with Rogers and discovered how her hunger pangs for authentic Caribbean soul food inspired the restaurant, how gentrification has been a financial challenge for her business, her plans to eventually expand the restaurant and more.
How did you get started?
My sister, and me, Elsie Darrell, couldn’t find a combination of Caribbean and Southern food in Harlem. We thought it’d be fine to start [a restaurant] by using our parent’s recopies. My sister focused on cooking and I took on the managerial duties since I was in marketing before this. I didn’t have experience in the restaurant business and it was difficult. We made lots of errors and mistakes and I didn’t have a business plan to follow. But I knew if the food was good we would get customers.
How has the restaurant business in Harlem changed since you launched your business?
At first I was the only restaurant on the east side that served this kind of cuisine. In 2002, other restaurants began to open with a similar menu and Harlem began to grow rapidly. The population in Harlem has gotten bigger and there is a different mixture of cultures. Gentrification has quadrupled the cost of rent and products cost more, too.
Where do you see the company five years from now?
I am hoping to move to another location in Harlem on 125th street that will be bigger. We will keep the same style of cooking and get a license to serve wine.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Our food is so good that I tend to eat a lot of it such as callaloo, yams, steamed cabbage, salmon and string beans.
What do you eat for breakfast?
We serve breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays, which is a Guyanese and Trinidadian treat. Personally, I usually have oatmeal, grapefruit and some hard-boiled eggs for my breakfast.