Shayna’s New Owner Keeps Roti In The Family
Narvin Seemungal dreamed of opening up a modern roti shop in Brooklyn, and though it was a new venture, he convinced his mother, Suzy, to jump on board. “I’d had enough of an office and desk job, so I decided to make a change,” Narvin said. “and I knew that with my mom’s food, this place would be a hit.”
But when Narvin and his mother stepped into Shayna’s in April, newly up for sale at 409 Church Ave., they found something completely unexpected — more family.
“When we walked in to meet Miss Joyce at her restaurant [Shayna’s], she and my mom got to talking about Trinidad. Miss Joyce said to my mom “you look familiar,” then they realized they were from the same village, St. Mary’s, and then, that they were cousins,” said Narvin.
When Narvin first mentioned the business idea, Suzy was hesitant about being on her feet all day, but serendipity intervened. “Let’s start looking for a place, and if we see it, I’ll know that it’s right,” Suzy said. “Then when we came here and met my cousin. I got the feeling and said, okay let’s go for it.”
The Seemungals, who are long-time residents of Sunset Park, had been looking to start their roti shop in Flatbush, to serve both the established Caribbean and West Indian population and newcomers. “We just happened upon this place the week Shayna’s went up for sale. It was serendipity for it to happen like that, and Miss Joyce did a handshake deal on the spot.”
“We’ve been living in Sunset Park since 2004, and have lived through a lot of changes,” said Narvin. “We love the neighborhood, and I go to the park on summer evenings for the most amazing sunset view.”
And for the food, Narvin is confident where his Roti stands. “I used to go to this Jamaican food stand in downtown Manhattan,” Narvin said. “I loved it, but I know that my mom’s cooking is better.”
This is Suzy’s first foray into professional chef-dom, but she’s no stranger to bulk cooking. “I grew up in Trinidad in a family of 10 and married into a family of 11. So we’re always making huge pots of food for holidays and Trinidad functions,” Suzy said.
Before they took the helm, Narvin and Suzy spent three months apprenticing at Shayna’s every day, learning her cooking secrets and her customers. “Shayna has a lot of regulars, and we wanted to meet them, to know what they like and what they wanted changed, and we’re expanding based on that feedback,” said Narvin.
Joyce and her husband built up a fiercely loyal customer base, and for Shayna’s regulars, Narvin wants to stick with what people are used to — with some added touches, like more menu options, renovations, and streamlined service.
New requests included expanded vegetarian options, and Suzy’s now offers Roti with spinach, broccoli, potatoes and eggplant, along with more Caribbean staples like fried okra, pumpkin, and curried mushroom. “A customer came in earlier and her face lit up when I told her about the vegetarian options.”
Streamlined ordering is important to Narvin, since this was a downfall he saw in the competing roti shops on Flatbush Avenue. “Before we opened, we tried different roti shops on Flatbush, to get a feel for how things are done, their prices, their portions, and how we can compare and compete,” Narvin told us. “A lot of people came in, waited, and left because they couldn’t get service.”
In addition to full-service, Suzy’s is offering a boneless chicken roti. “Boneless makes the dish more convenient and portable, like a burrito, easier to contain the curry and eat on-the-go,” said Narvin. But they’re keeping the bone-in option on the table, because the bone carries a lot of the dish’s flavor.
The family is hard at work on renovations designed to create more space and let more light in to the dark corner restaurant. Over the weekend, Narvin, his wife Mei, and his father constructed the wooden panel counter to replace Shayna’s refrigerated case. The counter will soon depict a hand-drawn map of Trinidad and Tobago, courtesy of Narvin and Mei.
In a few weeks, Suzy’s will be hiring new staff, erecting their sign and new logo, setting up outdoor seating, and expanding their hours to 10pm for the evening crowd.
Narvin also plans to spruce up the outside with pavers, new paint on the fence, a new door, more plants, and umbrellas with outdoor seating. “This is a great spot, no matter how hot it is outside this spot is always cool — in fact people hang out here because of the breeze.”
Delivery is also on the docket in the coming weeks, so look out for Suzy’s on Seamless and Grub hub.
Suzy’s hasn’t started marketing yet, but they’ve already been fielding a lunch and dinner rush, as well as snowballing referrals. “David, who owns Wheated next door, refers a lot of people, and so do the owners of Kawasaki around the corner, we’ve all become friends already!” said Suzy. Also, they’ve racked up a slew of 5-star reviews on Yelp.
So far it’s been a smooth transition from Shayna’s to Suzy’s — in fact, Shayna, who retired to take care of her health (Suzy told us that he has been having heart issues, and needs to get some rest), still comes by and offers her help to the whole family.
What to try: The dark, juicy Oxtail practically melts off the bone, and many reviewers are telling Narvin that it’s the best they’ve ever had. “We even had a Jamaican guy come in, and though he first balked at the price (oxtail an expensive meat) he tasted it and said ‘Oh my god. Now this is what I’m talking about!'”
Find Suzy’s Roti Parlour (still operating under Shayna’s original awning) at 907 Church Avenue on the corner of East 10th Street, or call them at (718) 282-8190.
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