There are dozens of Caribbean restaurants in Baltimore, but the overwhelming majority are Jamaican cuisine-dominated.
West Indian Flavour II, located in Park Heights, stands out as an authentic Trinidadian restaurant in Baltimore that sells fresh, not frozen, roti — a wrap filled with potatoes, channa, vegetables and your choice of protein (curry chicken, goat, shrimp, etc.)
A welcoming sight of the red, black and white Trinidadian flag is one of the first things you see when you open the doors, as it is printed on a rug at the doorstep. Tables decorated with red and white checkered cloth add to the patriotism. Trinidadian accents fill the air as customers shout out their requests, hoping to get the last order of doubles — a popular street food made from curried chickpeas tucked between two pieces of fried flat bread and dressed in tamarind, pepper and chutney, that sells out within hours — or a roti filled with their favorite ingredients.
The owners say they don’t know of any other Trinidadian restaurant in Baltimore that makes roti like theirs.
“Roti is one of our main staples and because there is no other restaurant that serves it hot off the fire —and that’s how they want it, not reheated — they come to me,” said co-owner Rosemarie Gangoo.
The first branch of the restaurant was opened in 2007 by Rosemarie Gangoo and her husband of 42 years, Allan Gangoo. The couple immigrated to America from San Fernando, Trinidad 26 years ago. After becoming a fan-favorite vendor at the Baltimore Caribbean Carnival parade, the Gangoos decided to open a restaurant on McElderry Street in East Baltimore.
“Speaking with members of the community from Trinidad and Tobago, they encouraged us to come here and open a business,” Rosemarie Gangoo said.
When the couple first moved to America, Allan Gangoo gained experience as a cook working in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. while Rosemarie Gangoo sold rotis from home to large chain restaurants. At the same time, she worked as a sales representative at Chevy Chase bank which later became Capital One Bank.
After opening their first restaurant and finding success, they opened West Indian Flavour II in 2009 at the current Park Heights location. Rosemarie Gangoo left her job at the bank to manage the new restaurant and make sure everything ran smoothly.
“I told [Rosemarie], ‘You have a nice position at a bank here, but how would you like to work for yourself?’” Allan Gangoo recounted. “She said ‘okay’ and now she does everything. She wants to be there to make sure that everything is done properly.”
“Being from Trinidad, I still have a taste for the food and really and truly, this is the only spot that really has that going on in Baltimore,” said Niko Duncan, a longtime customer who immigrated from Trinidad over 30 years ago.
Patricie Manwaring, a cashier and server at the restaurant who has been working there for over a year, can attest to the dedication of Rosemarie Gangoo, who she says is the type of owner who is always willing to help with the day-to-day duties of the restaurant as well as her managerial responsibilities.
“She goes all the way out to make sure everything runs smoothly,” Manwaring said. “If you need help in the front, she’ll come. If we need help in the back, she goes to the back to help out. She’s always running back and forth trying to help everyone else.”
Unfortunately, no amount of work ethic was enough to prepare the Gangoos for the detrimental effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on the restaurant industry. Due to the mandated quarantine and subsequent hesitation of patrons to return to in-person dining when restrictions were lifted, the Gangoos were forced to sell their first restaurant and move all staff and operations to the Park Heights location.
“[The pandemic] did affect my other store, the area became a ghost town, there was just no business in that area,” Rosemarie Gangoo said.
Operating in an area with a high Caribbean population has been a major boost for the restaurant’s revitalization. “Having mostly West Indians in this area here, we love the West Indian community that is still holding down the fort. I live near Towson now, but I’m going to still come back and spend my dollar in the community anyway to keep the community growing,” Niko Duncan said.
Atiba Duncan, a loyal customer and cousin of Niko Duncan, said that there are other Caribbean spots he could go to, but he chooses to spend his money here to support his people. “I’m from Trinidad but I grew up right on Belvedere and Litchfield. I’ve been coming here since they opened,” he said. “I could go to other spots, but this is Trini and it’s authentic, I bring everyone I know.”
The Gangoos are planning to open another branch of the restaurant so they can continue to spread the food and culture of their home country with as many people as possible. “There is such a huge market for my goods,” Rosemarie Gangoo explained.
“We have given it a lot of thought and it’s a possibility we may expand again to another location. it’ll either be in D.C. or Prince George’s County,” Allan Gangoo added.