This Williamsburg Eatery Is Mixing Creativity With The Flavors of Home

Kevin and Ria Graham, the couple behind Williamsburg’s newest Caribbean eatery

By Clare Baierl

It’s hard to stand out among the flooded streets of Williamsburg. Restaurants and shops line the busy streets of Bedford Ave, hoping to entice passerbyers with colorful window displays and fancy signs. But walk past McCarren Park, down 11th St. and you will find something different. A simple building, with a simple but daunting task. Rethink Caribbean food. 

For Kevin and Ria Graham, opening a restaurant had never been in the life plan, but neither had their whirlwind romance either. After meeting at a culinary event for Black History Month, the two-hit it off, and their partnership began. In less than a year, the pair was already married with a baby on the way. 

Before she knew it, Ria had become a stay-at-home mom. 

“I started feeling unsatisfied,” Graham explained, “I knew that I wanted to get back out there.” 

So the couple put their heads together and decided to start a restaurant. 

Kevin had experience in events and the culinary scene, while Ria brought the marketing knowledge, together forming a business partnership as harmonious as their personal one. 

They opened their flagship Caribbean restaurant, Kokomo, in July of 2020, quickly gaining a following of loyal fans. It was the height of the pandemic, and if opening a restaurant in general was hard, this was on another level. But the atmosphere and the food stood for itself, the restaurant quickly became a neighborhood staple. 

Now, three years later, the Grahams are taking their Caribbean concept to another level, with a fast-casual modern take on the flavors they know so well. The concept is simple, a healthier version of Carribean food. They want their guests to experience the classic spices and foods of the Caribbean paired in new and inventive ways. 

OxKale serves up traditional Caribbean food with a healthy twist

The name of the restaurant, OxKale, follows this concept to its core. Inspired by the classic Caribbean meal of Oxtail, the name uses a play on words to include the beloved health food of the moment: Kale. 

“We don’t serve traditional dishes in a traditional way,” Ria explained. “There isn’t one thing on the menu that you can find at another Caribbean restaurant.” The menu is packed with colorful dishes, everything from bright salads, jerk chicken and oxtail bowls, to their newest creation, a Gyroti. 

The dish, a meld between Roti and a Gyro, is a staple of OxKale. Inspired by two staples of Trindadian cuisine, the finished product is a soft, slightly crispy, thick wrap that holds meats and vegetables like warm island-dream. “It’s kind of like our brain love child,” said Ria. “We brought two different cuisines; the Mediterranean and the Caribbean cuisine, into one beautiful mixture.”

Going into the second week since opening, the restaurant is already bustling. Now, with expanded hours, those looking to try OxKale can come in anytime until 2 am on weekends. 

“If the cravings hit late, you don’t have to break your diet,” Kevin said with a laugh.

MidVille Kiwanis hosts 10th Annual Food Drive

Last week, the Kiwanis Club of Middle Village distributed food baskets to the community ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“The Middle Village Kiwanis has delivered food to over 1,000 families over the last 10 years, sticking to its core mission of helping one person and one family at a time and giving people something to smile about,” said Alphonse Gentile, a senior vice president at Cross County Savings Bank and event coordinator of the food drive.
The 10th annual food drive was held at a Cross County branch at 80-10 Eliot Avenue. Recipients of this year’s drive included United Methodist Church and St. Margaret Catholic Church, both in Middle Village, Notre Dame Catholic Academy in Ridgewood, and Saints Joachim & Anne Church and Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens Village.
“Everyone should be able to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones, even when times are tough,” said J. Nicolois, who sits on the club’s Fundraising Committee. “Middle Village Kiwanis takes pride in collecting and distributing food for the holiday season.”

10,000 bagels donated to La Jornada Food Pantry

A donation of 10,000 bagels arrived at La Jornada Food Pantry on Monday morning, courtesy of Bagels by Bell, REIL Capital and the Queens Chamber of Commerce.
At its peak during the pandemic, La Jornada Food Pantry, located in the Bland Houses Community Center in Flushing, served upwards of 10,000 families a week, about ten times the need than before the pandemic started.
The donation of bagels and bialys was welcomed by Pedro Rodriguez, executive director of La Jornada. The food pantry has been serving the Flushing community and fighting food insecurity for 13 years, and more recently serving the thousands of families who have been impacted by both the pandemic and extreme weather.
“It’s scary,” said Rodriguez. “In the richest city in the world, the richest country in the world, people may have died of hunger.”
Public officials celebrated the donation of bagels that will be distributed out by La Jornada, while speaking to the hardships seen by the business community and the food pantry over the last year and a half.
In addition to being located in the epicenter of the pandemic, La Jornada suffered damage from Hurricane Ida earlier this month when its ground-level pantry was flooded with two feet of water.
“We have seen the inequities that families in Queens face and how our constituents have been detrimentally affected,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng. “Our families here in Queens have gone through so much. It really means a lot that we have other small businesses in the private sector looking in and stepping up to help our community.”
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz praised partnership between the chamber, Bagels by Bell of Oceanside, and Manhattan-based REIL Capitol.
“We would not be able to do this if it wasn’t for everyone working together,” said Cruz. “Governing should be something that is done cooperatively.”
After touring the community room, Cruz lent some hope to a community that has seen small businesses and residents suffer due to the pandemic.
“Our beloved neighborhood saw thousands of people get sick and die, thousands of businesses closed and many didn’t reopen,” she said. “Unfortunately, many will probably close before the end of the year
“It’s disheartening, because sometimes you feel like no matter how much you do, it’s never going to help,” she added. “But I’m here to tell you that you can help.”

Catholic Charities hosts pop-up food pantry in Cypress Hills

Since the pandemic began last March, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens has been organizing pop-up food pantry events throughout the two boroughs.
This past Thursday, they set up a food pantry in the parking lot of Blessed Sacrament Church in Cyprus Hills.
“We have been taking people in since 8:30 a.m.,” explained Debbie Hampson, senior director of Community Health and Wellness Services for Catholic Charities, during the event. “We usually serve about 800 families.”
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens operates 49 food pantries. However, when the pandemic hit last spring, the group saw a 1,000 percent increase in food requests from families in need.
In response, they began organizing the pop-up pantry events, and have since distributed over $3.4 million in food assistance to families experiencing food insecurity as a result of COVID-19.
“At the beginning we were doing this every week,” Hampson explained, “and at that time we were serving close to 1,500 families.”
Each pop-up food pantry event requires a great amount of planning and organization. Members of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens and other volunteers fill bags with prepackaged foods the night before.
During the event, the group distributes the pre-filled bags, as well as fresh produce, dairy, and meat items on a first-come, first-served basis.
“It’s almost like a farmer’s market,” Hampson said as the group distributed food to attendees.
In addition to food, the pop-up event offers free COVID-19 testing and possibly COVID-19 vaccines in the near future. Catholic Charities has also partnered with the insurance provider BlueCross BlueShield, the food assistance program SNAP, and the COVID-19 emotional support helpline NY Project Hope, all of which had a presence at Thursday’s event.
“Besides being able to provide food, we want to let people know that they are not alone,” said Hampson. “We have counseling for folks because we know a lot of people have been depressed and anxious during the pandemic.”
Despite the ongoing challenges the pandemic poses, Thursday’s event very much felt like a celebration, with a DJ playing radio hits and taking requests.
Additionally, a large number of volunteers were also present, including members of the Carpenter’s Union, EJ Electric, and many parishioners from Blessed Sacrament Church.
Former Brooklyn state senator Marty Golden was in attendance as well, assisting with the food distribution and cracking jokes with the other volunteers.
“People were lined up around the corner earlier today,” he said. “We need to be there for people who are struggling during this difficult time.”

While some volunteers continued to man the food line, others went to the Blessed Sacrament Rectory for a special lunch buffet organized by the church. During the meal, the Star caught up with
“Food is a part of the community,” said John Gonzalez, an organizer for Catholic Charities. “We are happy that we can share it with our volunteers and local families.”
Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens is currently holding pop-up food pantry events every other Thursday, alternating between locations in Brooklyn and Queens. The next event is tentatively scheduled for May 6 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Astoria.

For more information on all of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens food pantries and programming, visit their website at

Cart check

Dear Editor,
I am in total recognition of food carts that don’t have a license, but they must be of a certain size and length. Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang has received much backlash on this, but I have to agree with him – partly.
They should not block subway stairways or create noise and pollution.
Some of these carts serve great food, but they must not be located in front of restaurants.
This counts also for sellers of personal protection equipment, clothes, and other products that block sidewalks. In Flushing, I feel like I am going through a crowded flea market.
There is no enforcement in the area, and I can understand Mr. Yang’s disgust.
Randy Savitt

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