Smorgasburg hit, Haam, is now a brick-and-mortar restaurant at the corner of Union Avenue and Meserole Street. Chef Yesenia Ramdass took the food she grew up eating at her Dominican home in Washington Heights, some advice from her Trinidadian mother-in-law, threw in some New York-inspired twists and, with a growing passion for contributing to a healthy and sustainable way of eating, she opened a new vegan eatery.
The plant-based Caribbean eatery started off as a delivery kitchen in Sunnyside, Queens. Many confused customers would show up looking for a place where they could sit down and have a meal. Every time, Ramdass would come out to deliver the food herself and meet them in-person, making sure they didn’t feel they were leaving without a full experience. Her team also posted a phone number for people to reach them instead of just ordering through an app and that helped them gather some extra data —many patrons would try to make a reservation, sometimes even for parties of six, which signaled to them that a physical space could be viable.
If it hadn’t been for a last-minute gut feeling, the chef and her chief of operations Randy Ramdass, who is also her husband, would have opened their eatery in Times Square. A sudden realization that what they were really after was to continue building personal relationships with their patrons, brought them to Williamsburg, and they opened the restaurant there on Nov. 15.
“At the end of last year, we sat down and asked ourselves, ‘What do we want to stand for this year?” Ramdass recalled. “We said, ‘We are going ham this year,’ and now here we are with a whole restaurant.”
For many Brooklynites, Caribbean food means jerk chicken, oxtail stew or roasted pernil — but at Haam, it means family, heritage, health, colors and flavor. She and her husband grow some ingredients in their own garden.
The menu includes yucca mash with king oyster scallops al ajillo — or cooked in garlic — petacón boats with lentil “ground beef” and jalapeño cashew queso, a tamarind oyster mushroom burger with aioli, dishes with tostones, mofongo, chutney, chimichurri and a true New York classic fusion made vegan — a bacon, egg, and cheese empanada.
“New York City has started to see the Caribbean outside of the typical fish and the mentality that it’s gotta be jerk,” said Randy. “We’ve got all of that, but also more and in a modern way. You don’t have to lose that part of the identity to go plant-based or to be vegan. You just become a conscious and responsible being on where we are in the world today.”
The new space welcomes visitors with a mural that represents what Haam is, with the tallest mountain of Trinidad, Mount Aripo; and the tallest mountain of the entire Caribbean, Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic. Two women in the mural represent the chef and her mother-in-law, who Ramdass considers to be the “executive chef.” A white butterfly symbolizes Ramdass’ mom, who died from cancer in 2018. The passing of her mother fueled Ramdass’ desire to feed her family with a better quality diet.
“I really took a step back and started questioning everything that we’re putting in our bodies,” said the chef, who is raising her three kids vegan. “Why don’t we make changes while we still have our health? Why wait until we’re sick?”
Homages to mothers are everywhere in the space. The name of the restaurant is also an acronym for “healthy as a motha,” Ramdass said, and a “heritage wall” displays music and cooking instruments popular in the Caribbean, used by the Ramdass’ families.
A modern bar serves a spicy mango and prossecco mimosa, coconut and guava drinks, and a list of non-alcoholic or dry cocktails, all styled with vegan creativity — like aquafaba instead of egg whites to make for a foamy sip.
“I’m excited to tell a story,” Randy said. “I’m excited to bring the culture, the flavors, the spices, just all of the things that make me a proud Caribbean, one of many.”