Fried red snapper is served whole with fried plantains, rice and beans and dip at Wawa Caribbean Restaurant in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS – After selling groceries from her own home to Lafortune, Wadeline “Wawa” Lafortune is living her dream by serving a taste of the Caribbean in her own restaurant.
“It’s always been my dream,” she said in between helping customers prepare an early dinner at Wawa Caribbean Restaurant, 4342 16th Ave. SW – many whose orders and preferences she already knew. The new restaurant is located in the former The Fish Store.
After pandemic delays and challenges in getting the seat she wanted, she opened a restaurant with her husband Wilberson on Jan. 31.
Wawa Caribbean restaurant
Where: 4342 16th Avenue SW, Cedar Rapids
Hours: daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Phone: (319) 396-3568
Details: Available to eat and take away.
“It was just amazing how the parking lot used to be full of people,” she said of the time she was selling the food from her house. “People would say ‘you have to open a restaurant’.”
So, with a base of hungry customers already built, she did it.
Wadeline “Wawa” Lafortune takes a take-away order for Chizi Anaghara (right) from Cedar Rapids on April 29 at the Wawa Caribbean Restaurant in Cedar Rapids. Lafortune shares food from Haiti, where she grew up, and other island cuisines. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)
But there is a certain irony about the story of the Haitian immigrant. Although she serves a variety of Haitian foods, from goat and oxtail stews to legumes and fried plantains, she never cooked as a child in Haiti. At 13, her family moved to South Florida, where her self-taught passion blossomed.
Other popular items on the menu include roast pork, jerk chicken, and a hearty legume stew with green papayas, ripe papayas, chayote, cabbage, spinach, and eggplant.
Roast goat is served with rice and beans and fried plantains at Wawa Caribbean Restaurant in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)
“Nobody ever taught me to cook,” she says. “My husband says this is against common sense. I think cooking is common sense. You mix things together, you mix them and it makes a meal. “
And after telling her husband how much she wants to open a restaurant for 13 years, her common sense becomes evident at Cedar Rapids.
“If you love to do something and use all your passions for it … it clicks,” she said. “It feels like you’ve been doing it for many years.”
With a variety of marinades she calls wet spices – as opposed to the dry spices that Americans think Americans use more often – Lafortune, 33, has adapted her style of cooking to American tastes without losing the Caribbean flavor. Haitian cuisine requires a more labor-intensive series of steps and methods to turn raw ingredients into a finished product, she said.
Customers await takeout orders on April 29 at Wawa Caribbean Restaurant, 4342 16th Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids. Owner Wadeline “Wawa” Lafortune shares food from Haiti, where she grew up, and other Caribbean cultures. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)
Her approach takes care to moderate her seasonings and makes the food palatable to both Americans looking for a tropical escape and Caribbean natives looking for a touch of home, she said. Lafortune is especially proud to bring this feeling to the students in Florida.
“I cook mainly because I’m very picky about food,” said Lafortune. “It has to be my own style.”
Lafortune’s family of four children under 12 moved from South Florida to Cedar Rapids in 2017. With the help of Wilberson and the support of their children, Wawa said they wanted to do whatever it takes to get this restaurant off the ground and become a success.
“There’s just too much going on in Florida,” said Lafortune. “We wanted to start a whole new life”
Finally, Wawa has an eye on future multi-site expansions. She said Iowa is a great place for Caribbean restaurants simply because there are fewer.
In the meantime, their children are learning the ropes. Your 5-year-old already knows how to greet customers like Wawa: “Hello, my darling.”
Wawa Lafortune is packing to-go bins at Wawa Caribbean Restaurant in Cedar Rapids on April 29th. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)
Fried red snapper is served whole with fried plantains, rice and beans and dip at Wawa Caribbean Restaurant in Cedar Rapids. Wadeline “Wawa” Lafortune shares food from Haiti, where she grew up, and other Caribbean food cultures. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)
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