In homage to her Haitian roots, Cassandre Davilmar opened Lakou Cafe to bring a taste of Haiti to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. This proudly Black-owned business offers a place for the community to meet, converse and enjoy delicious Haitian-fusion cuisine. Since the cafe opened its doors in 2018, numerous outlets have covered it, including Black- Owned Brooklyn and Forbes.

“Like all great ideas, I thought of the name in the shower,” Cassandre said to Travel Noire. “Lakou comes from the French word la cour which means courtyard. In Haitian Creole, lakou has multiple meanings. It describes a backyard or a shared green space where the community gathers. However, it also has political and religious meanings. People who live in the countryside are called those who live in the lakou. They are praised for their self-determination and independence from the government. Additionally, practitioners of the voodoo religion have religious ceremonies at the lakou, a communal area for worship.”

Photo by Cassandre Davilmar

Born in Brooklyn to a Haitian family, Cassandre isn’t new to the demands of the business world. Up until recently, she was an attorney, then went on to do investment banking. While she doesn’t regret those career decisions, she believes that owning a business allows freedom and flexibility.

“Sometimes as women, we tend to over compromise and over collaborate, often to our detriment,” she said. “By far, owning Lakou Cafe has afforded me the most personal and professional growth. The biggest challenges occurred when I shrunk myself and put my desires in the backseat. Negotiation and compromise are necessary, but listening to my intuition and learning from my mistakes is critical. I’m the boss. I make the final decisions, and ultimately I live with the consequences. Whatever decisions I make, I need to feel 100% confident in them.”

Located on 195 Utica Avenue, Lakou Cafe’s colorful facade beckons you to stop by, if only for a coffee. Meals are available for a variety of diets; from the Kreyol shrimp to the Haitian- style boulette with a vegan twist. Desserts include savory puff pastries, Haitian cashew brittle and sweet bread. If you like crepes, you’re in luck, as there are sweet and savory varieties. The cafe also offers catering services for corporate events and special occasions.

Cassandre is based in Weeksville, a community in Crown Heights steeped in Black history. In 1838, a longshoreman named James Weeks established it as the first free Black community in Brooklyn. According to CBS News, “Black folks there could thrive and participate in the American dream to the best extent they could.” Today, Weeksville has a very different face, and not many know about its glory days of the past.

“Before I opened Lakou Cafe, there wasn’t a place in Weeksville with fresh food, vegan-friendly options and beautiful decor,” Cassandre said. “I decided to open it there because I saw a need for a business that could provide a space for fellowship and fresh made-to-order food. The cafe brings beauty and dignity to the neighborhood while introducing folks to Haitian culture.”

Photo by Cassandre Davilmar

Cassandre’s ancestry is integral to her identity and shapes her sense of duty in all things. There’s also the pride that comes with being connected to the first Black republic in history. What some might not know is that Haiti threw its weight behind revolutions in other countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana, Chile and others.

“Haiti became the international symbol for self-determination and freedom from colonialism for Black and brown people throughout the world,” Cassandre said. “As a person of Haitian ancestry, I believe it is my purpose to remind Black and brown communities that we are deserving of dignity and self-determination. Despite our past experiences, we can rise above oppression and create our own realities.”

Haiti is Cassandre’s favorite destination, as well as Brazil, Cuba, Colombia and Trinidad. When she isn’t tending to her business, you’ll find her enjoying cocktails, riding her bike and lifting weights, among other activities.

Grab a friend and head over to Lakou Cafe the next time you’re in Brooklyn!

You can also follow the business on Instagram @lakoucafe