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Nothing Could Keep Restaurateur Ria Graham from Her Culinary Dreams-Not Even COVID

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  On The Rise

One of the hottest new restaurants in New York was founded by hospitality veteran Ria Graham, who was able to apply her years of experience in the sector.

They met, married, and moved to take over the restaurant world and make history. At least, that is the condensed version of Ria and Kevol Graham's love story, who are the co-founders of the Brooklyn eatery Kokomo.

Their eatery has since earned renown for its welcoming atmosphere, first-rate service, and popular Caribbean dishes including red snapper cooked escovitch-style and wah gwan flatbread.

It's no minor feat to open in the midst of the pandemic, but it doesn't mean it didn't require a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen. In June 2020, the 28-year-old and her husband opened the restaurant, and since then, they have gone on to generate millions of dollars in revenue each year.

However, Graham doesn't stop there. She recently co-founded and assisted with the launch of the rum cocktail company Good Guice, which she hopes will have a similar level of popularity. Recently, Graham spoke about the difficulties of the restaurant industry, what it's like to run a business with her husband, and how she balances the responsibilities of both parenting and entrepreneurship.

How do you plan to guarantee Kokomo's long-term success?

The hospitality sector is one that is driven by trends. If you can't keep people interested, they'll go on to the next big thing and consider you to be outdated. We spend more time than normal considering how to attract and engage our visitors. There are numerous restaurants in New York City that offer fantastic food and drinks, but the experience goes beyond that.

We see ourselves as an immersive experience and work hard to keep our audience interested. The visitors serve as the audience for an interactive performance in which we are the actors. Our goal is to make our visitors feel as though they are in the Caribbean by exposing them to aspects of our culture through the food, music, and art. At Kokomo, there is always something fresh to see, hear, or do. We are not afraid to try new things because learning from failures is a necessary part of the process.

How did your background assist in setting up things for the restaurant's opening?

Early in my career, I worked in sales and marketing for a nearby restaurant. My spouse, Kevol Graham, worked in nightlife promotions with a group of roaming chefs for many years, organizing dining events. We both share a love of hospitality and the culinary arts. Kokomo was a logical step in the development of our passion.

What served as Kokomo’s menu inspiration, and what distinguishes it?

I'm originally from New York City, as is Kevol. We do a lot of traveling and deeply value our Caribbean ancestry and culture. The flexibility of the Caribbean, as defined by the influences of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, was something we sought to capture in the menu design. The food on the menu at Kokomo is a reflection of our culture and experiences. It honors our appreciation for diversity, culture, food, and travel.

What are the challenges, advantages and disadvantages of running a business with your husband?

I completely get the advice to avoid starting a business with your significant other. Being in business together will swiftly reveal all of your hidden weaknesses (and strengths). It gets worse in a high-volume, fast-paced atmosphere since there isn't time to deal with it.

Your relationship will ultimately be strengthened and your marriage will reach a new level if you are truly committed to your partner and your business and are willing to address problems as they come up. We started out by constantly criticizing one another until it became a problem. We agreed that this strategy was unworkable and made a commitment to set aside the first hour of each day for group prayer. Our grasp of how to communicate clearly to resolve conflicts, how to recognize one another's talents, and how to constructively address our weaknesses began with that morning prayer. We still value our marriage, our family, and our developing connection with God above all else.

How do you balance the obligations of parenting and entrepreneurship?

I mostly set boundaries for my private life. I am able to bring my kids to work with me, but I won't allow them to join me when I've set apart time for them. I struggle every day with the idea that my kids might feel inferior to my business. What good is generational riches if there is no family to share it with? I would sooner protect my kids than every commercial opportunity that presents itself.

During the height of the pandemic, you launched Kokomo. What strategies and tactics did you employ to make sure it succeeded during that time?

COVID-19 has been the most challenging aspect of this experience. It's challenging to open a restaurant for the first time, but the added pressure of doing so in the midst of a global pandemic made things even more difficult. It was essential to be able to change course and adapt. We were fortunate that we were ignorant of the industry norms. First we learned how to operate a business, then a restaurant.

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