Monday, 12 November 2012

Ku Yah: A Home Away from Home

          Walking up Raymond Avenue, the cool blustering wind forcing my coat tighter, I hear the scramble of cars racing down the street. Finally my journey has come to an end as a yellow and blue sign welcomes me – inscribed with Ku Yah Restaurant. As I open the door a wave of warmth rushes over me, further intensified by the glowing smile of Hope (Ku Yah’s president) who greets me at the counter. We began our interview at one of the classic wooden tables embellished with colorful flowers. I was seated next to one of the numerous posters depicting Caribbean icons; I got the legendary Bob Marley. Hope’s warm presence and the general aura of the place, validates the accomplishment of her goal that, “[Ku Yah] could be a kind of home away from home... it’s the comfort level of having a good meal. [Being able to say] I feel comfortable, I can relax, I can enjoy myself.” Having been open for two years as of February 28th, Ku Yah has generated moderate success. “[We] didn’t open at a great time in the economy, people’s discretionary funds are not as much, but we have maintained so far.”
          The restaurant business was neither Hope nor her husband Winston’s initial career path. Twenty years ago during a family vacation in Mexico, they stumbled upon a little place they simply loved and thought, “When we retired [opening a restaurant] would be something we wanted to do.” The dream came a bit prematurely, Hope is still a certified Public Accountant but has found running a business to be a wonderful ride nonetheless. “It is a struggle. I think it is worth it ... We are hoping that our children can inherit it some time down the road. I have great aspirations for how we can evolve and take [Ku Yah] to the next level.”

         Hope manages the business end of things and the appetizers while her husband is the acting head chef, with only one other cook to help run the kitchen. The cuisine is currently based upon family recipes that Hope grew up with in Jamaica and her husband enjoyed as a child in Grenada. They both learned to cook at an early age, now they’re hoping to “delve into other recipes based on the local community,” representing the diversity of Poughkeepsie, including its collegiate patrons. Soon Ku Yah’s soul food will be offered along with an even more extensive vegetarian and health conscious menu.
          At present, the menu is already rather diverse and inviting. With hearty meats swimming in jerk sauce and oxtail stew to lighter fish dishes melting with complex spices. Everything is doused in a warm flavor that invites you into a state of happy relaxation. Vegetarians will find roti and curries as well as an extensive list of sides, all of which are meat free. Cabbage and carrots, beans on rice, yams, dumplings, and plantains tantalize the senses. The aromas and colors are wonderful; the food is served in a non-intimidating manner, there are no dishes more resembling an abstract painting than a meal you can actually consume. No foams or gastriques, just perfect approachable homemade cuisine. 

Hope is eager for more of the Vassar crowd to fall in love with Ku Yah. “This is a culturally safe place to hang out,” said Hope. Although Kuh Yah is essentially a Caribbean restaurant, the environment promotes a love of home that you can feel, wherever you may be from. Open mic nights are in the works along with an entrepreneur open house through the Jack and Jill of America organization. With these new events Hope and Winston wish for Ku Yah to foster a community of creative and successful individuals, a place of comfort for all those living away from home.

 Written by: Sarah King 

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