Andrew Walcott’s restaurant Fusion East in East New York provides more than just a meal. It’s a place to make memorable moments, inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs—and, ultimately, to belong. A graduate of NYCEDC's Manage Forward M/W/DBE training program, Andrew shares his story with us.
As part of the All In NYC campaign highlighting the city's resilience as it reemerges, rebuilds, and reopens, we're sharing the stories of the people and business who make NYC special.
Growing up in East New York, Brooklyn, I could never find a place that represented me and the neighborhood’s predominately Black Caribbean and African American population. I wanted to create a place that fit the character of the community, where people felt welcomed and at home—and that illustrated all the beautiful things happening in East New York.
Most New Yorkers think of East New York as an area consumed by dangerous crime, derelict buildings, and poverty. In reality, it’s going through a wonderful renaissance, with new parks, talented artists and musicians, and delicious food.
I wanted Fusion East to be part of that new experience and help inspire New Yorkers to see East New York as a vibrant destination spot. I have the option to live and work anywhere in New York City, anywhere in the country. But I stayed in East New York because I felt at home.
Fusion East opened its doors on October 2, 2015. After our first year, our sales doubled. On the weekends, we’d have close to 100 people enjoying jazz and karaoke nights. Prior to the pandemic, we were up 40 percent compared to the previous year so we were really rolling. When you hear your neighbors, especially those who you grew up with, say how much they love finally seeing a place that represents them, it makes you feel really good.
I couldn’t disappoint my family, my friends, or anyone else that believed in me, no matter how tough it got. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we were forced to shut down for about a month. Our sales dropped to zero. But failure was not an option.
Before the pandemic, we planned to launch our first Fusion East food truck in April, but we decided to put it on the road early in order to bring meals directly to the people on the front lines. We ramped it up immediately. We were lucky to secure the truck two weeks before the city shut down.
We were on the road almost every day visiting hospitals, nonprofit groups, and police precincts during the most dangerous time. People were incredibly thankful. In moments of crises, you learn to get creative and come together in ways you didn’t before. The food truck became a saving grace throughout the pandemic, since outdoor dining isn’t an option for us given the limited space we have outside.
As a first-time restaurant owner, it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get to this point. I left my job as an attorney and a certified public accountant to run my first business. Giving up is just not in my DNA. I’m pushing to bring my people back to work; I’ve been able to bring back 35 percent of my staff.
You have to be an optimist to live in New York City. At some point, things will get better, and when it does, I want to be here continuing to bring joy, good food, and a sense of community to my fellow New Yorkers.