When George Laguerre graduated from the School of Visual of Arts in New York City, he bought a car, packed it with everything he owned, and moved across the country to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a film cameraman.
Instead, he became the manager of a Church’s Chicken.
Through his managerial position there, he found a love for running a restaurant. He noticed how Church’s made their chicken and wanted to show America how Haitians make theirs, which led him to open TiGeorges — or Little George — Chicken.
“The whole idea of my business started from that point on,” said Laguerre.
His Los Angeles establishment opened in 2001 and had a successful few years, with Laguerre traveling to Haiti to gather fresh supplies from his hometown of Port-de-Paix.
At some point, the chicken-focused menu wasn’t working. He shifted from chicken to coffee, renaming the restaurant TiGeorges Kafé.
The switch to coffee came from his father, a former head agronomist for the northwest region of Haiti, who started cultivating coffee beans after losing his government job. A fellow coffee shop owner, his father instilled a love of the fragrant bean in Laguerre.
Similar to other Caribbean coffee, Haitian coffee is aromatic and smooth with hints of its cocoa cousin in each sip. According to Laguerre, it's coffee meant to be enjoyed socially. “Some people want to be wired after drinking coffee,” he says. “It's suave, it’s soft, it’s aromatic. That’s the joy of Haitian coffee.”
Laguerre's L.A. coffee shop thrived for another 13 years before hitting an end all too familiar to local, family owned-spots: gentrification.
He opened TiGeorges Kafé, a small coffee shop stuffed in a corner at the Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti. Laguerre wanted to explore the idea of incorporating Haitian culture into his shop
Upon walking into the café, a chalkboard sign displays an all-natural cup of Haitian coffee ($2.50), or foskao, Haitian hot chocolate ($3). The year-old café also sells homemade food, ranging from light snacks such as a lakay paté ($1), or house pate; beignets ($1); and pikliz, a spicy vegetable relish sandwich ($5), all created by Laguerre himself.
Laguerre’s personal favorite is the pain patat ($2), or sweet potato bread. He says it reminds him of how as a young boy, he would wait at the gate before school to buy a small cube of the pudding from a merchant to enjoy throughout the day.
“The bell would ring and I would shove that thing into my pocket, so hot. And during the session, I would reach into my pocket a little bit at a time and consume it before the class is over,” Laguerre recalls.
Bags of Haitian coffee, homemade spicy peanut butter (mamba), and confiture de chadeque (grapefruit jam) can also be purchased.
Laguerre wants nothing more than to bring Haiti and its food to the American market. Through his almost 20 years in business, he hopes to one day see his products sold in grocery stores.
“I’m bringing something new, to show that Haiti can do something nice,” Laguerre says. ”I want to make the difference.”
Tigeorges Kafé. 5925 NE Second Ave., Miami; 213-353-9994; facebook.com/tigeorgeskafe. Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.