I love to bring you stories of entrepreneurs who are not only having an impact, but who are actually helping to change Haiti’s story. Meet Shawn and Sabrina Brockman.
Shawn and Sabrina are the founders of Grandchamps Kitchen and Market. They are a hard-working couple breathing new life into Bedford-Stuyvesant, a section of Brooklyn, while rewriting the narrative about Haiti.
After getting the attention of the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago, a mutual friend connected us for this interview.
From the moment I set foot in the restaurant, I felt the warm hospitality and positive vibes in the atmosphere. With soft Haitian music playing in the background and Haitian artwork adorning the walls, Grandchamps brought a feeling of nostalgia. It transported me to one of the hot spots in the town of Petion-Ville, except I never left Brooklyn.
With their investment banking backgrounds from Goldman Sachs and Chase Bank, respectively, the Brockmans’ down-to-earth personalities were refreshing. In spite of their impressive resumes, they’ve made Bedford- Stuyvesant their home.
While I was there, Shawn stopped by our table. My conversation was primarily with Sabrina Brockman. The interview felt more like meeting a friend for coffee as opposed to having a list of questions and answers to cover. As interested as I was about learning what led Sabrina and Shawn opening their business, Sabrina was just as interested in learning about me and my experiences living in New York.
I did learn how she and Shawn managed to execute a successful restaurant opening. I say successful because the Wall Street Journal would not write about a mediocre experience.
I will complete a more detailed post-interview summary in a few days. In the meantime, here are some of the key takeaways from our hour-and-a-half-long conversation.
Culture and experience must be key
Creating an immersive culture and ensuring a memorable guest experience are top priorities for the Brockmans. Sabrina illustrated her point through one of her favorite quotes by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is the Brockmans’ motto for ensuring that Grandchamps’ guests feel a sense of belonging while in the restaurant.
And speaking of making guests feel welcome, I remember a story that a colleague once told me that reminded me of the Brockmans’ business philosophy. He shared, “When people come to your home or your place of establishment, it is only for a moment – and when they leave, that moment becomes a memory, so it’s important you create a moving memory for them.”
On maintaining the integrity of the Haitian culture
Maintaining the integrity of the Haitian culture while appealing to an international clientele is also important. “Our customers are not only Haitian people,” Sabrina pointed out. “So how can I appeal to non-Haitians while staying true to what it means to be Haitian?”
This is one of the questions that guide the Grandchamps Kitchen and Market business culture.
To the Brockmans, making the business profitable is important, and so does building a community.
“Community is at the center of our culture, and so it is only fitting that it is at the center of our business model,” affirms Sabrina.
For example, the Brockmans hire people from the community and train them to become part of the Grandchamps family.
Just this past week, Sabrina hosted a Table Talk Series event for Women of Color in Business. She notes, “It was a family style dinner where a group of dynamic emerging business leaders met to connect and share their success stories.” It was an honor to be invited and to be part of such a great group of success makers.
If what I experienced at the table talk event is a synopsis of how the diaspora is using their skills, talents and resources to build economic development in their communities throughout the world, Haiti will change.
Sabrina continues, “The fact that there are so many of us working to reconnect and bring awareness of our culture proves that the sense of community is not lost. Our next step will be finding creative ways to support each other’s initiatives and partnering up – which you can only do when you have a solid foundation in place. L’union fait la force.”
Here is a final pearl of wisdom from Sabrina Brockman: Get into the habit of studying, listening, and—if it makes sense—commit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniella Bien-Aime is the founder of the Bien-Aime Post, a digital media platform that focuses on business, leadership, education, and social media, within the context of the Haitian diaspora and Haiti. You can follow her on Twitter @dbienaime or find out more from her at www.bienaimepost.com.