Haitian painter makes art his own restaurant

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First and foremost Shubert Denis, the owner of The Port-O-Prince Star Restaurant in Cambria Heights, is an accomplished painter. His paintings have hung in galleries and museums, but he loves the constant contact with the public owning a restaurant provides.

Port-O-Prince Star Restaurant at 221-31 Linden Blvd. is a simple place that conjures up memories of the small eateries that dot all of the Caribbean Islands from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and from Martinique to Jamaica.

“I like to deal with the public and talk to the people,” he said. “I don’t feel that the people who come into the place are customers. They come in as friends.”

There are seven tables, which at capacity seat about 28 people. The walls of the eatery are painted aqua and pink, with a number of Denis early naive paintings on the wall. The traditional Haitian paintings portray the life in a small fishing village or town.

He opened the restaurant in 1989 and wanted a warm place where he could joke, talk and spend time with the people who stopped in to sit down or the majority who dropped by to take out one of the many traditional Haitian dishes.

He said some of the typical dishes the Port-O-Prince serves are: griot, or fried pork with rice and beans; curried goat; curried chicken; tassot, or fried goat; and lami, or conch. Every dish is served with rice and beans, “which is key because everybody loves it.”

Denis came to the United States in 1982 to visit New York City, its museums and galleries. He said he wanted to see what artists around the world were producing and to study the great painters like Pollack and Picasso.

Overcome by what he saw, Denis decided New York was where he needed to live and produce art. He said his move to the United States was all about art and had nothing to do with the political situation in his country.

“I was taken over by this feeling that I needed to stay and push my art,” he said. He said he wanted to see if he could take his art to another level.

Once he decided to stay in the United States, Denis found a place to live in Queens Village and got a job in a restaurant to support himself. Denis has only been back to Haiti a few times since he left, but he remains in constant contact with his brother and cousins who live on the troubled island.

The neighborhoods of Laurelton and Cambria Heights are home to a large number of Haitian immigrants and their families. Linden Boulevard between Springfield Boulevard and the Cross Island Parkway is filled with Haitian restaurants, barbers and stores.

Even though he spends a good part of his time at the restaurant, business, Denis paints five or six hours a day in his studio in the basement of his house. He is married to a Haitian woman he met in the United States and has a 15-year-old son and two girls, 11 and 7. Denis said all of his children draw and he is teaching them to use watercolors.

“I opened the Port-0-Prince because I used to work in restaurants before and people always told me they hoped I would open a place,” Denis said. “So I kept working and saving my money and told the guy who owned it to call if he ever wanted to sell the place. Then one day he called and I bought it.”

The Port-O-Prince Star is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. If you want to pick up something to take out, you can stop or call in your order at 525-9006.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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