Twelve years ago, Léo Fleurimond’s dream of becoming a policeman came crashing down when he was involved in a serious car accident that forced him to learn to walk again. He faced deportation as his medical bills piled up.
“I had to figure out what to do. We got back together and went back to basics. In Haiti, there are no jobs. You get an education, [and] you’re lucky to find a real job that you have training or a degree for,” said Fleurimond, who broke his back and both wrists in the accident.
In 2017, Fleurimond launched SoBeachy Haitian Cuisine, selling dishes — such as chili made with ground beef and Haitian spices — from a tent at various Baltimore farmers and flea markets. Now the restaurant, which has been anchored at Cross Street Market in Federal Hill since 2019, plans to open a standalone location in the Hampden area by 2024.
Kelly Burke, from Union Square in southwest Baltimore, lived in the Bahamas as a child. Burke frequents SoBeachy and said her favorite dish is Island Zing, which consists of avocado and other vegetables, plantains and mango sauce with rice and beans. sauce, who sees rice and beans cooked together.
“It’s an island vibe. … It’s happiness. That’s what I like the most. I go there and people smile,” she said. “The music is playing; the food is fresh and delicious, and it reminds me of the Caribbean.”
Fleurimond, 48, of North Central Baltimore, moved from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Brooklyn, New York, at age 7 due to political unrest in 1980.
Fleurimond’s family later moved to Spring Valley, a New York suburb, where he attended high school. He attended Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, before graduating with a theater degree from Stony Brook University in 2008.
Fleurimond said his mother, Rosemonde, taught him how to cook Haitian specialties — like spaghetti with hot dogs — in college because he didn’t like school food. His dishes later became a hit with his friends.
He said he and his wife, Chanel, created SoBeachy’s menu by combining Haitian and American dishes in an effort to appeal to people unfamiliar with Haitian cuisine.
The menu includes chicken marinated in a spice blend and sautéed vegetables in a herb sauce and marinated and fried red snapper in a Haitian sauce, made partly with garlic and green onions.
“We don’t have a big Haitian community here, especially in Federal Hill,” he said. “We had to respond to what was out there; and mixing that with American food, that’s what we got. It is a success.
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A stand-alone location will allow SoBeachy to offer more dishes, such as mushrooms with rice, fried goat and pork, known as Griyo (pronounced Greh-yoh), he said.
“I’m growing because we’re doing well at a time when everyone else is doing badly,” he said. “We need more space to give our guests the island experience they deserve, and here [at Cross Street Market] it’s just too small.
Jeenly Louis, who is Haitian-American, said SoBeachy represents the best of Haitian culture in Baltimore. He is delighted that the restaurant is expanding because it will probably be able to offer more dishes, he said.
“They try to be innovative. I normally get one thing, which is Island Zing because I don’t eat meat. I love how they combine everything because there’s rice, beans and avocado,” Louis said.
Fleurimond said people are sometimes hesitant to taste his food because it’s different from what they’re familiar with, but that doesn’t stop him. He continues to fight the same way he fought back when he was physically attacked and bullied at school because he was Haitian, he said.
“I just think Haitian food is the best in the world,” Fleurimond said.
This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which features notable people from the Baltimore area who are impacting our diverse communities. If you would like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a brief description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Editor Kamau High at [email protected].