Palme: The Caribbean-influenced Restaurant That Puts Community First
Palme opened in 2017, with the aim of breaking free from the Caribbean’s traditional cuisine shell and providing a casual dining experience while maintaining a warm ambiance. Lee-Anne Millaire Lafleur, and Ralph Alerte Desamours are the owners. They brought with them their Caribbean cultural experience as well as international hospitality to Montreal.
With Palme, they’ve blended multiple cuisines, from Latin American to African to Asian, and made it their own. “We take influences from many countries like Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, but we’re also influenced by any place that has a palm tree. That’s why our name is Palme,” adds Lee-Anne.
As a black-owned business in the bustling Gay Village of Montreal, they’ve also taken their role as a restaurant a step further by becoming an important member of their community through initiatives and activism.
We spoke with Lee-Anne about Palme’s evolution, meeting modern challenges, using technology to their advantage and how they’ve used their position as a restaurant to support important causes and make a difference in their community.
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Lee-Anne: We started in 2017 and we were two owners, me and my husband—he’s the chef. I take care of everything that’s in the front: cocktails, alcohol, rum and all the influences that we have. We started the restaurant because we both worked abroad—I worked in Mexico and he’s worked in the Cayman Islands and I worked there as well. We discovered that Montreal didn’t have the same type of industry that we had worked in while abroad. It wasn’t exactly high end, but just like a nice atmosphere to sit down and eat Caribbean food with nice decor. It’s this feeling of being on vacation and being able to find food from different regions. You can get your Haitian jerk chicken in one place, and also find Haitian food at other restaurants.
When we came back to Montreal it was like “I want to have my traditional meal, I want something that makes me feel like home, but I also want to talk, have wine and I also want to sit somewhere where there’s not like a takeout plastic plate in front of me.” So we wanted to bring that to Montreal.
Montreal-born children from the Caribbean
Lee-Anne: I’m mixed. So my dad’s from the Bahamas, my mom is from Montreal, and I’ve always had that Caribbean influence in me. While my husband was born here his mom hails from Haiti. Obviously we’re influenced by our roots, but we’re also Montreal kids that grew up here. We’ve also been influenced by Asian food and a mix of everything. We wanted to put all that together and create that difference because we’re not like first born, but we’re not like immigrants ourselves.
Long history of hospitality
Lee-Anne:My husband was a professional chef. His experience in hotels was in Cayman Island. I’m kind of like a jack of all trades. I’ve done tons of different jobs. Before opening my own hotel, I was employed in the front desk of an Omni Hotel. It was at the Omni Hotel’s front desk that I got my bug for the service industry. Then, when I was in Mexico I went to Club Med. I became a VIP guide to people who were visiting the resort. This gave me the opportunity to see great restaurants and go outside of Mexico. When I worked in the Cayman Islands, I was in a high-end five star restaurant that had Caribbean food and it’s something that I had never seen before, especially not in Montreal. This was the inspiration that led me to creating Palme.
Caribbean cuisine with a twist
Lee-Anne:Every season, we change our menu. We do have seafood mac and cheese, which is not possible to remove from the menu. The fried chicken brings out a lot of Caribbean flavors, while the seafood mac and cheese has Asian influence. It also contains ingredients such as cilantro and various other flavours. It’s really something that people have gravitated towards.
Another is our griot dressing. The chef created griot in an entirely new way. You still have the same pork that is cooked slowly and then fried at the end, but then it’s mixed with sweet potatoes, watercress, carrots, cauliflower and a bunch of other vegetables with a sweet and spicy sauce.
My husband is the cook. He makes his own Jamaican jerk sauce, using ingredients we have grown here. A few farms just made peppers for us. We add other ingredients to make it more special and unique.
These are our three mainstays that have remained the same throughout the years. The season changes the menu depending on what’s available. The freshest ingredients are sought out and contacted by local producers. By doing that, it kind of brings a freshness that we don’t always find in Caribbean food.
Lee-Anne: You can’t stay the same forever. It’s true that some things never stay the same. As we have grown, the interior has evolved with our budget. We’ve also been integrating more of the stuff that we like into our interior. Friends of mine are both photographers from Montreal and around the world. I was also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in my quest to locate local activists. I have pictures of people like Marlene Jennings in Montreal, who’s been an activist for 30 years in Montreal for the black community. I found a really cool picture of her and it’s been integrated into the decor.
The overall decor of the restaurant hasn’t changed, but if you walk into our vestibule, it used to be just pink with flowers and stuff, and now you have paintings from artists that are part of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve integrated black artists that have influenced the Black Lives Matter movement, and I’ve just put that all into the restaurant.
Giving back the community
Lee-Anne:Where? [the pandemic]We started by giving food to hospital employees. Then we made an offer that you could donate an additional dollar if you ordered a takeout dinner. We gave one meal per dollar to a person who worked in hospitals. This allowed us to provide approximately 400 meals for people who work in hospitals.
We decided that if we’re going to be in the Gay Village in Montreal, we’re going to try to implicate ourselves as much as we can. An event was held to support LGBTQ+ and BIPOC community members. They were the only ones who attended our event. All proceeds will go to an organization that will help them promote their events, as well as provide a safe space for them to do so in the future.
Modern hospitality problems: How to tackle them
Lee-Anne: The The first problem they had was closing our dining area. At that time, we didn’t have any takeout so our first instinct was to order takeout. We decided to do it immediately and it’s evolved since then. We wanted to maintain our brand as the most important thing. We try to be as eco responsible as possible—we went with biodegradable containers and bags.
Incentives to address a labor shortage
Lee-Anne: We’ve always been a small team, but now it’s even harder because we’re doing two things: takeout and the room. It’s not easy to attract or retain more staff. We’ve never paid anyone minimum salaries, so already that was an incentive, but we also offered other incentives for employees, like offering them a meal during their shift.
We’ve also started integrating a new insurance policy. Many of those who apply are young. They’re not necessarily looking for dental care or medication, but if they want, they can take that option. The ability to purchase media subscriptions, such as Netflix and Spotify or Apple Music, is also available. Our hours are also reasonable. Most students don’t want to work more than 20 hours a week and they can make good money at the restaurant by working two or three shifts. Those are the ways that we’ve tried to retain staff.
Restaurant industry perceptions are changing
Lee-Anne: We’re trying to change the perspective on how owners of restaurants are. We’re also owners that are on the floor. My husband is a head chef, but he’s also in the kitchen six days a week and I’m in the front. I’ll also jump on the floor. I’ll be a server, I’ll be a busboy, I’ll be the bartender, I’ll be whatever you guys need to make it happen. I feel that in that environment, our employees are more comfortable and say things like, “I’m not overwhelmed and if I am, I can actually go see my bosses and talk to them and they have experience. They were overwhelmed. They have been in my situation”.
It’s not perfect and we still have a long mountain to climb, but I think in trying to do better for our employees, I think we’re trying to change the mentality of the restaurant industry.
Technology is moving forward
Lee-Anne:At this stage, I feel technology is the key. If you don’t move with technology, your restaurant’s not going to move with the way people move. For us, we’re happy withSmall Biz Sense because we’re able to integrate it with all the other products that we use. I use another program called Deliverect that puts everything together, so I don’t have to manually enter every single takeout order. It was a great relief to find out that Small Biz Sense was available and could easily be integrated. No matter the order that I get, all orders go through my hands. Point of salePrint out the forms. I don’t have to do anything, so it saves time for my employees and for me. Also, for reporting to do your accounting, it’s so much easier because we’re with Small Biz Sense.
What we really like about Small Biz Sense is that every time that we have a change to make, and we change our menu and room really often, we can just walk in and say, “OK, I’m modifying this, I’m changing my tables. I can give access to one of the employees”.
Small Biz Sense is also compatible with many payment options. Everything’s integrated into our system, so we don’t have to break our heads. Even if you’re not super aware of how everything works, it’s all kind of logical and it all goes together. We find it saves us so much time. I can integrate new features, change things, or make it happen quickly from my home. I also have the option to take it to a restaurant, or give it to another person.
New products added to the restaurant’s menu
Lee-AnneWhat’s the New Year? We’re actually listening to our clients a lot this year. During the pandemic, we did merchandise—we had hoodies, we had sauces and stuff that we sell at the restaurant on the menu. When we stopped doing that to start the dining room again, clients were like “we still want this stuff”, so we’re working on that for the winter season, bringing back all those products that we had. People will be able to buy jerk sauce and it’s all available on their websites. UberEats allows people to order jerk sauce online and get it delivered right at their home.
Small Biz Sense can help your restaurant take the first step towards success
All restaurants around the world face similar challenges, including labor issues and supply chain disruptions. While the solutions to these problems aren’t simple, technology can make them manageable and at the same give you the tools you need to succeed in a changing industry. Small BizSense allows you to adapt to any situation with features such as online ordering, which lets customers place orders and pay from their smartphones.
If you’re looking to take your restaurant forward with technology, Talk to our expertsFind out more about Small Biz Sense.