Story originally posted on April 28th, 2017.
Keron Capleton-Allen is the owner of Melting Pot Cuisine, a Caribbean/American restaurant in Astoria, Queens, and she manages every aspect of it, from the kitchen to the front of the restaurant where customers make their orders. Though the restaurant had a rough start, Capleton-Allen is proud of her accomplishments as an immigrant in New York City.
In 2015, American FactFinder reported an emerging population of 153,774 West Indians in Queens, coming from countries that include Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago, up from 149,347 in 2012. IBT reports “the total Caribbean population and those of Caribbean descent in the U.S. may be as high as 22 million,” with 70% of Caribbeans living in states like Florida, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Capleton-Allen opened the Melting Pot in July 2011 – starting out on Sundays only, now open seven days a week. “The community kept us going,” says Capleton-Allen. A nurse who once aspired to become a nutritionist, she applies what she’s learned to her cuisine. “It’s about balancing how food impacts health. I’m very big on food handling and contamination. It’s as important as good flavor or quality.” Capleton-Allen utilizes natural, non-processed, ingredients. “Some products use high steroids in chicken. Even if it’s one cent, I’m not buying it. I have to eat what I cook here also so I won’t use what I myself cannot eat.”
The chef, 26-year-old Rohan Malcolm, the mastermind behind the menu, says that the oxtail, jerk chicken, and fried fish, are the Melting Pot’s most popular dishes. Highly spirited in the kitchen but otherwise reserved, Malcolm was born in Jamaica before moving to America five years ago with his wife. “Moved for a better life,” he says, which he found, with one condition: “It’s better but you have to work harder.”
Malcolm learned to cook by watching and helping his grandmother cook, in Jamaica, where he learned the cultural dishes of his home. Now, he worries about the Queens community he serves, because of policies put forth by President Donald Trump. “Immigrants built America,” he says. “It’s okay if the bad ones are gone but all immigrants are not bad. All of them? No. All of them are not bad.”
The Melting Pot Cuisine is meant to symbolize the restaurant’s theme, as suggested by Capleton-Allen’s 14–year-old daughter — to bring a diverse array of cultures into one.
“[The name] is fitting because of the neighborhood,” said Capleton-Allen, who also has a 20-year-old son. “It’s very multicultural, metropolitan, and diverse.” The Melting Pot serves meals that go beyond West Indian culture, like its Thanksgiving menu, which is more American than West Indian.
But the initial attraction was the authentic food. “People from the community would come in and would take menus and show it around,” said Capleton-Allen. “They told other people in the area about us and we grew thanks to them.”
At 51-years-old, Capleton-Allen remembers her initial move to New York from her home in Kingston, Jamaica, where she was born, when she was in her early 30s. “I came for upward mobility. To achieve much more,” she said. Her main goal was to purchase a house in Jamaica, which she did; her mother and youngest brother live there, and she plans to join them when she retires. But for now, Capleton-Allen is more focused on the growth of her company and her second home, America.
The move required what Capleton-Allen describes as a “big adjustment,” which she had to make herself because, she says there is “no school to learn the adjustment.” The two greatest struggles for Capleton-Allen were the climate and the anti-immigrant stance she faced, an attitude heightened since the election of President Donald Trump. “It’s a really different type of person to be a migrant,” she said. “Leaving your world to go into the unknown. Learning to navigate or assimilate.” She describes the process of assimilating into the American culture as one where you “dive in and swim your way through.” She shakes her head. “People don’t understand how much we give up. Family members pass away, weather is different, work environment is different, and even the absence of family members.” All of this added to her stress.
Capleton-Allen describes building Melting Pot as a “from the ground up” process. Employed by the Health and Hospital Corporation, Capleton-Allen saved money from her job at the Goldwater Memorial Hospital – currently working with Caller Nursing Rehab. “It was my own personal savings. No inheritance like Mr. Trump, no big banks to bail me out,” she said in between laughs. And while she had her finances in order, she was not prepared for what she calls the “nuanced” aspects of owning your business, like an inspection that was delayed for six months.
“Nothing in life is 100%. The ‘American Dream’ is hard work,” she said. She recalled one difficult winter when she found herself at her breaking point. “It pushed me to work to purchase a car,” she says, her solution to avoiding the bad weather.
The benefit in America for her lies in its diversity. “There’s more exposure to different people from different parts of the world,” she said. “You realize as human beings we have so much in common. Even if we think we’re different.” This realization, coupled with the love for her diverse neighborhood, motivates Capleton-Allen to look towards more community-oriented activities forMelting Pot Cuisine. The restaurant has already donated food to local high schools, and that, she says, is just the start.