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Haitian bakery still cooking after 25 years

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If you are looking for yucca-flavored cookies in Cambria Heights, there is really only one place to go.

Anneus Chery, owner and manager of the Creole Bake Shop at 221-11 Linden Blvd., has been selling Haitian baked goods for 25 years - and he is still unique in the neighborhood.

"In Cambria Heights, I am the only one," he said.

Inside Chery's small shop, a selection of rolls and loaves, bagged tightly in plastic, sit on a narrow countertop. There are glass jars full of exotic Caribbean sweets, including baked coconut slices and cashews, cooked with sugar and spices. Beef, chicken and fish patties lie in a glass case at the end of the counter, and a refrigerator in the corner holds cold drinks, including a Haitian-style soda called Cola Lacaye.

The bread is firm to the touch, yielding only slightly when pushed.

"We use more flour," the 67-year-old Chery explained. "American bread has less flour, that's why it is soft."

The walls are adorned with pictures of Haitian leaders, including Henri Christophe, king of the newly independent Haiti for a brief period in the early 19th century - the first black king in the Western Hemisphere.

On a recent Friday afternoon, two elderly customers chatted with Chery as they sat sipping sodas and scratching instant-win bingo cards.

Chery learned the art of baking in his native Haiti, where he owned a bakery in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"I lived in the country, I made a business. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad," he said of his years there.

In 1974, at the age of 38, he settled in Cambria Heights, joining a Haitian-American community there that was in its infancy.

Herold Dasque, director of the advocacy group Haitian Americans United for Progress in Cambria Heights, described the Haitian community in Queens in the early 1970s as a very small enclave made up mostly of well-to-do professionals.

He said the Creole Bake Shop was one of the very first Haitian-owned business to be established in the neighborhood.

Now, countless loaves and beef patties later, Chery operates a business in the midst of a thriving immigrant metropolis.

Nearly 1 million Haitians live in the tri-state area - almost two- thirds the population of Port-au-Prince, according to HUAP. Major communities in the city include Jamaica, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale and Queens Village in Queens as well as Flatbush, East Flatbush and Canarsie in Brooklyn.

But for the first few years of his life here, one very important Haitian was absent. While Chery struggled to make a new life for himself in Queens, his wife stayed behind in Port-au-Prince to look after the bakery.

"I missed her from the first day I was here," Chery recalled.

Through a friend, Chery was able to get a job working in the bakery on Linden Boulevard. After three years, he sent word to his wife to sell his bakery in Haiti and join him in the United States.

In 1978, he bought the bakery from the owner, and has been in business for himself ever since. He moved from Cambria Heights to Queens Village in 1984, where he still lives today.

Chery was philosophical about the struggles and sacrifices of his first years in this country.

"All life is difficulty," he said. "Difficulty comes, you take it."

Today the shop boasts six employees - all from Haiti - who work either full time or part time as business fluctuates.

"Some of them have experience," Chery said, "and some, if they don't have enough, then I teach them."

He added that at the moment he is looking for bakery workers with good experience. And although they need not be from Haiti, he hopes they are at least familiar with the recipes and techniques of Caribbean baking.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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