By Bianca Fortis
The restaurant business has always been part of Alex Bernard’s life.
His grandmother Sybil opened up her namesake Guyanese restaurant and bakery in South Richmond Hill in 1976.
“After school we came to the restaurant to do our homework,” said Bernard, who grew up in Jamaica.
Now he, along with his father Vilburt, runs Veggie Castle II, which is located at 132-09 Liberty Ave. and serves all-vegan Caribbean cuisine.
Despite what is, for some, unorthodox fare, the customers are a diverse group of people, ranging in age and ethnicity, Bernard said. About half identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan.
“That’s what food is about,” the 28-year-old said. “There’s no discrimination here. Everybody wants good food.”
The Queens spot is the second incarnation of Veggie Castle; the first opened in 1997 in Brooklyn and closed after 10 years when the rent got too high.
The idea for Veggie Castle was inspired by a family friend, who also operated a vegetarian restaurant, and came from its location: They opened it in a vacant White Castle. Sybil suggested the name.
Eight years ago, when the family needed a new site, they chose one right next to Sybil’s.
One of the most popular dishes is the soy ginger chicken, Bernard said.
“The ones who are vegetarians like it because it tastes good,” he said. “The others like it because it tastes just like chicken. They don’t miss the meat.”
Another popular choice is the “chicken drumstick” — seasoned tofu wrapped around a stick and shaped like the leg of a chicken.
They also offer a customizable grill menu and a full juice bar with more than 52 offerings.
The new location was takeout only, but about a month ago the family opened a dining section to accommodate more guests.
Bernard said he has had a few noteworthy visitors, including rapper Common, singer Erykah Badu, Travie McCoy of the group Gym Class Heroes and reggae artists, many of whom live on a vegetarian diet.
“A lot of them come here as soon as they get off the plane,” Bernard said.
John F. Kennedy International Airport is about a 10-minute drive from the restaurant.
Bernard likes to say he is not in the restaurant business but rather in the business of feeding people.
“There’s nothing better than seeing someone enjoy a meal you just prepared fresh,” he said.
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.