Twelve years ago, Leo Fleurimond’s dreams of becoming a police officer shattered when he was involved in a serious car crash that forced him to learn how to walk again. He faced eviction as his medical bills piled up.
“I had to figure out what to do. We put ourselves back together, and headed back to the roots. In Haiti, there are no jobs. You get an education, [and] you’re lucky to find a real job that you got an education for or a diploma,” said Fleurimond, who broke his back and both wrists in the crash.
In 2017, Fleurimond launched SoBeachy Haitian Cuisine, selling dishes — such as chili made with ground beef and Haitian spices — in a tent at various farmers and flea markets in Baltimore. 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, of Union Square in Southwest Baltimore, lived in the Bahamas as a child. Burke frequents SoBeachy and said her favorite dish is the Island Zing, which consists of avocado and other vegetables, plantains and mango sauce with rice and bean sauce, which sees the rice and beans cooked together.
“It’s an island vibe. … It’s happiness. That’s what I love the most about it. I go in there and people are smiling,” 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 the age of 7 because of political turmoil in 1980.
Fleurimond’s family later moved to Spring Valley, a suburb of New York City, where he went to high school. He attended Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, before earning a theater degree at Stony Brook University in 2008.
Fleurimond said his mom, Rosemonde, taught him how to cook Haitian favorites — such as spaghetti with hot dogs — in college because he disliked the school’s food. His dishes later became a hit among 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 sauteed vegetables in herb sauce and red snapper marinated and deep fried in Haitian sauce, made partly with garlic and scallions.
“We don’t have a big Haitian community here, especially in Federal Hill,” he said. “We had to cater to what was out there; and mixing that along with the American food, this is what we got. It’s a hit.”
A standalone location will allow SoBeachy to offer more dishes, such as mushrooms with rice, goat and fried pork which is known as Griyo (pronounced Greh-yoh), he said.
“I’m expanding because we’re doing well at a time where everybody is doing bad,” he said. “We need more space to give our customers 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’s excited 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 the Island Zing because I don’t eat meat. I like the way they combine everything because it has rice, beans and avocado,” Louis said.
Fleurimond said people sometimes hesitate to sample his food because it’s different from what they know, but that doesn’t stop him. He continues to fight the same way he defended himself when he was physically attacked and bullied in school for being Haitian, he said.
“I just think that Haitian food is the best in the world,” said Fleurimond.
This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at firstname.lastname@example.org.