It all started with a smoothie. In April 2013, Papillon opened its doors to a new market – unaware of the success it would see in the future, unaware of the customers who would help sustain more jobs and unaware of a business that had just begun to take root. The Cafe at Papillon, which now hosts thousands of visitors annually, has grown into an entity – one in which the employees could have never dreamed. Mario, a beloved and long-time employee, has been working at The Cafe since the beginning. He recalls of the early days in the small room tucked back behind what is now production space, a room that would never hold the capacity of customers today. He was hired to boost sales, to evaluate the products – smoothies – and to help make them better. I never ran a restaurant or ran anything, he pauses, except for my mouth. He chuckles as he reflects on his experience in an industry he never expected to find himself in, considering he never received proper training in hospitality management. But the skills he possesses couldn’t have been learned from formal education. His time and experience in Miami provided him with a knowledge of customer service he would need to elevate The Cafe to the next level.
Smoothies have been sold at The Cafe since the beginning.
It was Mario who was also there to see the first food addition to the menu. I didn’t want to buy lunch from the local vendors, he reminisces, I wanted to make my own food at work. Since he was already in a kitchen during the hours of his work day, it wasn’t too much of a burden. With his George Foreman grill, he began preparing hot dogs for himself, but it wasn’t long until curious customers began wanting to buy them from him. Thus began the sales of food. Smoothies and hot dogs. It was the perfect combination and the ideal partner to the marketplace. But the dreaming didn’t stop there.
In early 2015, a shelter across the street was constructed to provide a respite from the sweltering sun for the artisans on their lunch break. But when Mario saw the space, he envisioned the possibilities of expansion for The Cafe. The traffic coming through Papillon had been increasing, and with that came more visitors desiring a snack in the midst of their shopping. The small cafe room was quickly becoming too crowded for the demand as different groups and teams overlapped, all awaiting their smoothies. Since the large space reserved for the artisans’ break was only going to be occupied an hour a day, the dream of moving the cafe soon became a tangible reality. That fall, The Cafe reopened for business above the marketplace and has since added an array of items to the menu including burgers, fries, pizza and coffee beverages. They have even upgraded to gourmet style hot dogs.
Mario’s fellow employee and friend, Rich, has been working at the The Cafe since its reopening. While they ran in similar circles in the States, the two didn’t become acquainted until they both returned to Haiti roughly six years ago. After pursuing separate business endeavors together, they each found themselves employed by Papillon, working in The Cafe. Rich, also with his exceptional English speaking skills and his mentality of Westernized customer service, soon became an incredible asset to the team. Almost always found behind the register, he daily greets those who visit the restaurant, always with a smile on his face, despite the rush and the chaos he faces. If you’ve visited The Cafe, you’ve probably encountered Rich and witnessed his calm and gentle spirit.
Rich – a consistently friendly face in The Cafe.
Together, the two imagine what the future of The Cafe might hold. While they face struggles, they also relish in the successes. Regardless of managing a team of different personalities and mentalities, and although they desire upgraded equipment and a larger kitchen, Rich and Mario look forward to what is to come for the restaurant. Five years from now, they hope to open new locations of both the marketplace and The Cafe, in Cap Haitian, the second largest city in Haiti on the northern coast, and Jacmel, a charming, coastal town on the southern border, places with an attraction for tourism. They dream of growth for the company, with an increase in job opportunities throughout the country; and despite the fact neither of them imagined to be here today, their passion is evidenced as they share of their own personal histories with Papillon.
The Cafe has become much more than a restaurant. It has become a place of fellowship and connection, it offers a space of warmth and welcome. It has become a destination for friends to gather, co-workers to meet and dreamers to dream, all while employing ten young men, providing for them an income and still embodying the vision Papillon stands behind – orphan prevention through job creation. The next time you’re in Haiti, we invite you to stop by The Cafe, not only to enjoy the food and drinks, but also to meet the wonderful people who manage it.