Everyone knows you only need one thing to guarantee any Caribbean dish will be a hit: flavour! But what about a Caribbean restaurant in the Big Apple? Is flavour enough to make it a success? If anyone has the answer, it’s 30-year-old Troy Gordon. Real estate agent, nightclub promoter and restaurateur all rolled into one, this Trinidadian is making a new name for Caribbean cuisine in New York.
In December 2016, Gordon, together with fellow Trinidadians Fallon Seymour, Darrius Marcellin and Jillionaire (yes, the Jillionaire of Major Lazer), opened Pearl’s Caribbean in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, serving up Trinidad-inspired food. And so far, it seems that Pearl’s has the recipe to success, attracting attention from the New York Post, Business Insider, Zagat, and CBS New York. Here’s why, according to Gordon. “If you hear of a Caribbean restaurant in New York, it’s usually a fast-food kind of place, whereas at Pearl’s Caribbean, there’s an amazing backyard, it’s a sit-down, restaurant-style menu, you order food, [there’s] waiter service.”
Not only is Pearl’s a notch above the average Caribbean eatery in NY, but thanks to its wildly colourful décor, the boomboxes pumping Caribbean tunes, and the outdoor patio’s tropical ixora bushes, Pearl’s also has that special something: an island vibe. This breezy atmosphere is exactly what draws customers, as Gordon has learnt firsthand; while showing properties in Williamsburg as a real estate agent, property managers have sung Pearl’s praises without realising Gordon is a co-owner.
“I listen to them preach about how amazing the Caribbean food is,” he says, “and how laidback and cool the vibe is, how they like the Caribbean music we play, how they feel like they walk into a whole other world. They feel like they’re on the beach in the Caribbean.”
So there’s no denying that Gordon and the other co-owners have found a real gem in Pearl’s Caribbean. But success isn’t always as rosy as it seems. Like all successful people, Gordon had to hit a few hurdles along the way. As a restaurateur, his first major letdown came after he and two fellow alumni of Fordham University (where Gordon studied finance) invested in an Italian restaurant franchise, Doppio. The venture ultimately failed. “It was a very, very tough experience,” Gordon remembers, “but it was a learning experience, so I don’t regret it.”
Not one to get bogged down in disappointment, Gordon stayed focused. He kept pushing his real estate work while using his prominence as a nightclub promoter to continue building an already vast network of contacts. His work ethic, even in the face of the Doppio failure, never wavered. Asked how he found – and continues to find – the energy to work so doggedly, he says plainly, “I want to be successful. I have a drive to be an overachiever and I feel like while you’re young you should just do as much as you can. Later on in life, I’ll be able to sleep and rest, but for now while I’m alive and healthy… I have now. Now is the time to do.” Crucially, he adds: “It doesn’t help that my grandfather [Ken Gordon] casts a big shadow, so maybe subconsciously I’m looking up to him. I’m trying to fill his shoes.”
Since that call from Seymour, Pearl’s Caribbean now has a strong foothold in the NY restaurant scene. But for Gordon and the other co-owners, the most rewarding part of Pearl’s has nothing to do with dollars and cents. “It’s just awesome to have something from home in New York,” says Gordon, “When I owned Doppio, yes it was an amazing achievement to say that I owned a restaurant, but it was Italian. It was a whole different feel to say this is my restaurant and it’s my culture. It’s like you’re bringing a piece of home to another place and it’s awesome. It’s kind of like taking someone from America to Carnival. It feels like: this is my world.”
There’s no denying from the way Gordon talks about Trinidad that his heart is still in the homeland. Though he’s been living in the US since he was 18, when he went to LA then NYC for university, he doesn’t have so much as a hint of a ‘Freshwater Yankee’ accent, and come Carnival Monday and Tuesday, you’re guaranteed to see him on the streets of Port of Spain pelting waist like Double M himself—which naturally gives rise to the question: does he have any business plans for T&T?
“I am open to business anywhere on this globe,” he says. “I am not against any business opportunity as long as the product and the numbers are right—anything is possible.” Spoken like a true entrepreneur. (Ken Gordon couldn’t have said it better.) So back home, we’ll patiently wait for Gordon to set up shop in T&T, but in the meantime, at least we know he’s created a little slice of Trinidad in Brooklyn, for anyone who wants to discover why flavour is the key to any great Caribbean dish.