Go Island Hopping With Leticia Skai Young of LoLo's Seafood Shack in Harlem

On Location

A woman holding crab legs from LoLo's Seafood Shack

Spruce Eats/ Todd Coleman / Amelia Manley

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“We call ourselves a Cape Cod and Caribbean mash-up,” says Leticia Skai Young, co-owner of LoLo’s Seafood Shack. The festive Harlem seafood restaurant hits home for Young in all of the right ways. She was born and raised in Spanish Harlem, her father is from Belize, and her husband (Chef Raymond Mohan) is from Guyana. 

“We actually met working in fine dining, so it was different to create a fast-casual concept like LoLo’s but fun for us. I was looking to do something that would also be an asset to the community. Community is always at the core of what we do,” says Young.

The restaurant quickly became a neighborhood staple. Celebrated for its fresh, flavorful seafood, LoLo’s has also provided thousands of free meals through World Central Kitchen and Feed the Front Lines.

How did LoLo’s get started?

My husband Raymond Mohan and I opened LoLo’s Seafood Shack about seven years ago. We were considering moving back to Harlem and we were walking around and we saw this space with a store for rent. Then we saw it had a backyard and we were sold. The LoLo concept was born.

LoLo’s means locally owned and locally operated, but it’s also a nod to the lolos in the Caribbean. They’re these seafood shacks right by the water—I’m predominantly talking about the ones in St. Martin. My husband and I lived in Anguilla in the British West Indies, and we would frequently go over to St. Martin and visit the lolos. I thought Harlem could use its own lolo. It’s a celebration of island flavors and seafood.

What were your guiding principles when opening the restaurant?

It’s about feeling transported. When you come into LoLo’s, it’s not a Belizean restaurant or a Guyanese restaurant. You can decide where you want to be transported. We have representation on our menu from Jamaica with jerk seasoning and Trinidad with johnnycakes. It’s kind of like island hopping. Our backyard is really rustic and colorful. Like you just got off the boat somewhere and now you’re ready for a seafood snack.

New York is such a hectic, busy place that I think it’s important to have these escapes in your neighborhood. It’s casual, you don’t have to dress up, but you can come in and get a rum punch or a mango margarita to go with your food. That was what I was going for when I created LoLo’s.

Tell me about the conch fritters you make in the video.

I picked the conch fritters because they’re a perfect street food. The conch is actually flown in from Belize. For me, it’s about getting some of those culinary traditions in. I remember my dad taking me to the seafood market in Belize as a little kid. Coming from Spanish Harlem, seeing all of this stuff—great big sea turtles and all of these amazing things in the market—my mind was totally blown. The fact that you could eat something that came out of a big shell. 

I love that we have these on the menu because they’re a great snack, it’s rustic. Ours are different because we put these fresh pops of peppers and corn and scallions and we make our own homemade remoulade sauce to go with them. It’s very zesty and fresh. To me, it’s a perfect combination of what LoLo’s represents, that Cape Cod and Caribbean mash-up.

What are your favorite dishes to eat at LoLo’s?

The jerk ribs are always a favorite. I also love our salmon sandwich. It’s a really fresh piece of salmon brined and prepared by the chef using a bunch of different techniques and there are lots of fresh herbs. Each of our dishes tends to have five ingredients or less in them, so it’s really about stripped-down simplicity and freshness. I love the dill on the salmon and the salsa verde it comes with, and it comes on a fresh johnny cake with cucumber salsa on it. I’m getting hungry thinking about it!

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

Really, we started the restaurant to express ourselves creatively. Whether it’s to inspire people and create jobs in the community… one of my favorite things since we’ve been open is the youth I’ve mentored over the years. We work with a lot of college students, and I’ve seen them graduate and do well and they always come back. I love to be able to share the culture with people through food. I’m also a creative person, music is one of my passions. Some of my record collection adorns the restaurant. We have a lot of art as well. We’re gearing up to do the first art week where we have an artist showcasing their work. All of those things that involve creative expression whether it’s curating the music, artwork, design, or creating new dishes.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite place to eat in Harlem? Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too
  • Favorite kitchen tools? Big slotted spoon or spider, fish spatula, tongs
  • Go-to breakfast? Omelet or basted eggs and bacon, especially homemade bacon
  • Favorite snack food? Our homemade plantain chips with curry salt served with pineapple chutney salsa
  • Dinner party soundtrack? House music or some dance music from the 70s or 80s
  • Favorite hot sauce? Marie Sharp’s