How Fallon Seymour Went From NYC Model to Caribbean Chef
If you know anything about the restaurant industry, you know it’s yet another arena dominated by men.
But women are slowly but surely proving to dudes who ask them to “make me a sandwich” that they will make them the best damn sandwich they’ve ever had.
In ex-model Fallon Seymour’s case, she’ll serve you a sandwich filled with shark at her Brooklyn restaurant, Pearl’s Bake & Shark.
Fallon and her husband John opened their first restaurant ten years ago, and she went on to open Pearl’s as a homage to the Caribbean culture that she grew up in — and a way for her to show off her fave recipes.
We talked to Fallon about the future of Pearl’s, the discrimination she faces as a woman in the restaurant industry, and how to open a business with your bae without killing each other.
You’re a former model and now you own a restaurant. What was that transition like?
I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant and to be around food. I was always told when I was younger [that I] should be a model because I was tall and skinny, but it wasn’t something I was really passionate about. So, I moved to New York from Trinidad. I love the runway — that’s something that I definitely love. And then I met John and we got married and [we were like], “What are we going to do now, now that we’re marred? What is our future?” He was bartending at the time and we decided to open up a restaurant. So, it was a huge change from what our life was before [where] we had way more freedom and then we were stuck down to a restaurant. In the first couple months, we were there from morning to night. It was nice to become my own boss for sure. It was something that I always wanted, so I was excited.
So, what was the first restaurant that you guys opened together?
Pop’s, a little burger joint in Brooklyn and Williamsburg. We opened that 10 years ago.
Looking back now, what are some things you wished you knew back then about opening a restaurant?
How time consuming it is. You know, everyone warns you that it’s so much work, but you don’t actually realize how time consuming and hard it could be until you’re actually in it. I would be there for 12 hour days for weeks on end in the beginning stage to just kind of make sure that everything was in order. But it definitely would not have deterred me if I knew what I knew now.
Do you and your husband take different roles within the company? Do you kind of handle certain things and he handles others?
Yes. So with Pop’s it was definitely a joint venture. I’m more of the food aspect and he’s the personality — he’s great at networking. I’ve been cooking since I was little girl. So, it’s something I’m very passionate about, I came up with recipes. And then I had kids, so that kind of made me take a step back. [Since then] I opened Pearl’s and he runs Sweet Chick. We work really great as a team because I think where he may lack, I’m great at, and where I lack, he’s great at. So, we make a really good team.
What tips would you have for other people who are going into business with a significant other?
Try to keep business separate from the home because it kind of consumes your life — owning a business. And then when you’re doing it with a significant other, it could be a little straining on the relationship because people have different opinions or the emotions that you feel. So, I think it’s really important to make sure to separate time for yourselves and make sure you’re still in the relationship.
There aren’t that many women in the restaurant space, especially as owners. What challenges have you faced as a female restaurateur?
I feel like I don’t get taken seriously. When my husband and I have a meeting, they direct everything to John or I might say something and it’s dismissed, it’s very annoying. I’ve been doing this for 10 years, so it’s not like I don’t know what I’m talking about. We would discuss something and I would say what I think and they would just kind of be like, “yeah, but blah, blah, blah,” and just dismiss what I’m saying. I have to almost tell John — John wouldn’t be with me at this time — but I would tell John to speak to so and so because John and I would agree on a point and then when John tells it to this person, they’re like “Oh, ok.” That is something I definitely feel, I wish it wasn’t like that, but it is what it is. Hopefully, with all female business owners that will change and men will respect us a little more.
I saw on your Instagram that you get comments from people who say you’re culturally appropriating by running a Caribbean restaurant. How do you respond to that?
That person [on Instagram] in particular, I emailed them back because anyone that is from the Caribbean would know how diverse we are. We are a melting pot of people and cultures. So, that person’s great grandmother was maybe West Indian, so she knows nothing about Caribbean culture and just assumes that everyone is Black — there’s Indian, there’s white, there’s Chinese. There’s like every shade of person from there. So, I would just say people need to educate themselves before you make outrageous comments like that, because I’m not the type of person that would just, you know, take it and not respond — I didn’t respond crazy, but I kind of just educated her a little bit.
But I’m used to it. I get it all the time. People would come into the restaurant and they will want to ask a question and they would immediately go to my general manager who’s Indian and they would go to her because they think, “Oh, she’s brown. She must be Caribbean.” I get it because I’m not the typical look of someone from the Caribbean, but I guess people just need to know how diverse we are.
When you moved to New York from the Caribbean, what are some major adjustments you had to make?
I used to kind of dress a little crazy. My outfits were definitely very Caribbean, West Indian style. That’s how I grew up, so I didn’t think anything of it. And then I was like, “Okay, I’m dressing a little wild right now, I need to tone it down.” Also, I had to repeat myself a hundred times a day to everyone because my accent now is tiny compared to what it was. My accent was very strong. So, no one understood me. And I had my friend to translate to people what I was saying, no one understood me. I wanted to also keep who I was and not change my accent, but now I feel like I speak full words…I pronounce my words better so that I’m understood. So, that’s something I’ve gotten with time.
How often do you add new things to the menu?
We run specials for brunch and on the weekends, and then seasonally we will switch it up to kind of match what’s in season in the Caribbean. Those produce will be coming up, so we will have a special to showcase the new items that are here. And then, you know, with the summer, you know Caribbean food could be heavy, but we do lots of salads, some ceviches, some lighter options for the summer.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu right now?
My favorite is the classic, the bake & shark, that’s how the whole concept of the restaurant came. It’s like this amazing fried poppy bread that we fill with fried fish — it’s a species of shark, but it’s basically just a fish. It’s called dogfish and many places have it. I don’t think people realize it’s a species of shark. So, I think that maybe kind of scares people because it says shark, but it’s sustainable and all of that. That’s my favorite because that’s how the whole concept of the restaurant came to be. I would say my second favorite is the Bake & Pepper Shrimp — a very peppery spicy sautéed shrimp comes with avocado and arugula and it’s delicious. It’s not for people who don’t want spice — definitely very spicy, but it’s delicious.
Are you looking to open more restaurants or do you think that you’re probably just going to focus on the three that you have?
Well, John is opening two more and I am considering expanding in the neighborhood. It’s not finalized, but I’m considering it. You know, I would like to have a Pearl’s in Manhattan because there are a lot of people, especially in Manhattan, that don’t want to really go out to Brooklyn. So, I would say another Pearl’s in Manhattan would be in the future.