Ria Graham, whose mother is from Trinidad and father is from Grenada, her husband, Jamaican-born Kevol Graham, created the Kokomo restaurant in Brooklyn with the goal of providing their guests with as authentic a Caribbean experience as could be enjoyed without leaving New York. The restaurant was features by Forbes magazine. Ria loves the historic and versatile nature of the Caribbean and its mix of African, Asian, European, and American cultures, and she wanted to tell its stories through Kokomo’s food.
The couple’s desire to reflect the love of the Caribbean did not stop with the restaurant’s menu items, however. They designed Kokomo with a high level of detail, utilizing the services of designer Dara Young of The Aviva Collective to create intimate dining spaces that were inspired by Caribbean motifs. For example, the focal point of its main dining room is a communal table where groups of people can enjoy their Caribbean meal while they view the bamboo bar, a feature that symbolizes strength and positive energy, Ria said. The main room also displays an art installation designed by Young that is a recreation of a Caribbean village in miniature.
Kevol Graham was born in Kingston, Jamaica. His mother comes from St. Ann, while his father is from St. Mary. He was raised by his grandmother in Jamaica until he went to live with his parents in New York at an early age. “Mama Mac,” his grandmother, raised Kevol and his siblings in St. Catherine’s Spanish Town. Ria’s mother was raised in Point Fortin, Trinidad, while her father comes from an island off the coast of Grenada, Carriacou.
Both Kevol and Ria were raised in New York. Ria worked in the restaurant hospitality industry after she graduated from college, while Kevol was a party promotion pioneer who had 15 years of experience in promotional marketing. He worked with several cutting-edge chefs that hosted food events throughout the United States. It was this experience that spurred his passion for the culinary arts. Ria and Kevol met when Ria was marketing for a Caribbean restaurant, and a group of private chefs was hired to promote an event. Kevol was one of the chefs, and he made excuses to visit her office until he finally asked her out. She agreed, and “the rest is history,” he said. When she told him about a restaurant that was up for sale, he recognized it as their opportunity to bring their unique perspectives to the culinary scene.
The success of Kokomo stems from its fusion of cultures known for excellent food. It allowed the Grahams to bring something new to the local culture, filling a void in a place where there was a lack of Caribbean food options. The fusion of foods and cultures meant they had the chance to step outside the norm and change the way Caribbean food is perceived.
The Grahams plan to expand the Kokomo brand in the future.