The Singhs opened the business to address a need for traditional Trinidadian food when they first moved to Richmond Hill in 1990. Credit: Ambar Castillo

Singh’s Roti Shop & Bar is often packed with people who live in the neighborhood as well as those who come from much farther away, craving a taste of the Caribbean. The line to order stretches across the South Richmond Hill restaurant and even outside. They come for the homeland vibes: the soca and chutney music, the cricket match on TV and the flags of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. 

The Singh family immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago in 1990 and opened their first restaurant that same year in Richmond Hill. They wanted to cook the food they knew from back home: roti, a round buttery flatbread, a traditional dish of meat, peas, and coconut milk called pelau, curry meats, and doubles, a curried chickpea sandwich. Their business was the first roti shop in the neighborhood. Now, the community is filled with them.

After a few years, the business was so successful, they wanted a larger shop. So in 1999, the Singhs opened a second restaurant with more space: Singh’s Roti Shop & Bar. The new venue was located on 131st Street and Liberty Avenue, in an area also known as Trinidad and Tobago Street.

This restaurant had a more extensive menu, a bar, and weekend DJs, live bands and drumming ensembles known as tassa (the shop has live entertainment during the summer and for special events). It was too much work to manage both venues, so the Singhs closed the smaller shop and kept the bigger one open. The co-founders and their two daughters still work in the restaurant. Some of their staffers have worked with them for 20 years. 

Singh’s Roti Shop & Bar on 131st Street and Liberty Avenue opened to address the long lines at the original family business. Credit: Ambar Castillo

The curries and doubles are favorites of Joe Singh (not related to the shop owners), 56, a construction worker who immigrated from Trinidad. For the past three years, Singh, who lives in Jamaica, Queens, has spent his holidays and weekends at the restaurant, eating and watching cricket. The day Epicenter NYC visited, Singh’s eyes were glued to the Chennai Super Kings v Gujarat Titans match. His black hoodie is dyed with bright pink spots, a casualty of Phagwah, a spring celebration. 

This year Singh’s Roti Shop will be participating in the Phagwah Parade of NY in Richmond Hill, which it has been doing since the early 2000s. Every year they give out T-shirts of a different color. Seema Chan, the co-founders’ youngest daughter and co-manager of the business, says this is her favorite memory: loyal customers showing up with various colors for each year they have been a part of Singh’s celebration. The shop hosts an after-party each year, where they allow customers to throw colored paint in the space. 

The variety of foods includes Trinidadian-style Chinese food and fresh-baked bread alongside other staples. Credit: Ambar Castillo

One customer, who is also an employee of sorts, Mohan Mangal, 67, plops down on a table. Mohan says he sleeps in a car near the shop most nights and ambles in when the staff starts their day around 4 a.m. He’s the unofficial customer service and part-time maintenance staff: Mohan welcomes and directs newcomers to restrooms, sings the shop’s praises, takes out trash, and wipes down tables.   

At a nearby table, another customer, Ravi Moonan, a retired NYPD special operations officer who used to patrol this neighborhood for seven years, is finishing his meal with his wife and young son. Moonan now lives a two-hour drive away in Pennsylvania, and he drops by anytime he’s in the city. 

Moonan, who is Trinidadian American, says the cricket, the bar, the food, and the Trinidadian snacks tie him to his family culture. Singh’s Roti Shop also attracts a diversity of customers, which brings him back to his roots growing up in the most diverse borough.

“It’s a cultural experience,” he says. “I’ve seen this place introduce Hispanic people, Asian people, African Americans to the flavors of the Caribbean, the flavors of Trinidad and Tobago.” 


Singh’s Roti Shop

Address: 131-14 Liberty Ave, Queens, NY 11419

Phone: (718) 323-5990

Hours: 5 a.m.-9:45 p.m. every day

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