Local Café Combines Caribbean and Dominican Influences


Johanna and Jasmine De La Rosa-Ramos opened L’Nox Cafe to share their Carribean-Dominican fusion food with NYC. (Courtesy of Instagram)

The kitchen of Johanna and Jasmine De La Rosa-Ramos has the well-organized yet chaotic feel of a Thanksgiving morning right before guests arrive.

Jasmine can be found beside a large cutting board, chopping cheese and rolling meats; her wife Johanna is just outside, grilling 200 pieces of chicken under a large tent and Jasmine’s mother Elvira De La Rosa stands at the stove cooking a pot of coconut rice and peas. The savory and slightly sweet smell of Elvira’s signature dish hangs in the air as she spoons it into a silver catering tray. This is the headquarters of L’Nox Cafe on the morning of a catering event. A Caribbean fusion mobile cafe, the De La Rosa-Ramoses run L’Nox Cafe from their own home in the East Bronx. According to  Jasmine, on a normal weekday their preparation begins at 6 a.m. and by 10 a.m. they load themselves and their dishes onto the L’Nox Cafe food truck and park outside Jacobi Hospital on Pelham Parkway. Sometimes, they immediately begin selling to loyal customers, who will take whatever is hot.

Jasmine and Johanna started L’Nox Cafe almost three years ago, and in addition to running their food truck, they cater events and festivals around New York City. Johanna is the head chef, and Jasmine is the chief financial officer, but all the De La Rosa women help each other out. They all have a specialty: Johanna makes the jerk chicken, Jasmine makes the mac and cheese and Elvira makes the coconut rice and peas. “People get so upset when it sells out,” Johanna said of Jasmine’s mac and cheese. “It’s — oh my god.”

Jasmine is so familiar with the recipe that she can immediately tell when she adds too much or little of an ingredient, before she even tastes it. “I’m a person that can smell when something is not right before I taste it,” she said. “When you’re making it every single day, you just know.” 

The De La Rosa-Ramoses draw inspiration for their recipes from their Jamaican and Dominican roots and perfect them through trial and error. “A lot of the stuff on our menu is what we’ve already fed our family and they’ve approved,” Jasmine said. “Our families are our guinea pigs. If they would have said, ‘Listen, this does not work,’ then we would have never put it on the menu because our families — people — those are our customers.” Their son Christopher said he often tries his mothers’ more ambitious creations and trial runs them with his friends and co-workers. “I’ve always been somewhat of a picky eater,” he said. “My mom knows that if something gets by me it will probably get by most of the public.”

The family’s Caribbean roots inspire more than their menu — they inspire their philosophy on food as well. “In a Caribbean-Spanish household, food is comfort. When things are great, you eat. When things are sad, you eat,” Jasmine said. “Food brings you happiness; it can bring you closeness; it can bring you whatever.”

In addition to taste-testing, the entire De La Rosa family also works festivals and events together. “At every festival we do, our family is our employees. They work for the food and the music,” Johanna said. “Every time we get together, it’s a party.”

In 2019, both Johanna and Jasmine quit their jobs in the healthcare field to begin working at L’Nox Cafe full-time. Jasmine said that it was scary when they first started and is still scary today. “You just never know. One day I can make $50, and the next day I can make $500,” she said. “But we’re lucky to have a really, really good team,” Johanna added. “Our family stands behind us 150%.”

Jasmine said that hers and Johanna’s previous experience in the healthcare field has served them well in their mobile cafe business because of the community they formed with their patients and co-workers. “You know who they are, who their family members are,” she said. “It’s almost the same thing in the truck. These people start to know you, and you start to know their orders. Before they even walk up to the truck, you’re already serving them: ‘I know you want a cream soda today,’ and things like that.”

L’Nox Cafe is a regular stop for many of the healthcare workers at Jacobi Hospital and local Bronxites. When Johanna was asked about her future plans for L’Nox Cafe, she said she would love to expand  all over the country. “But baby steps,” she said. “One day at a time. Slowly but surely we’d love to expand to maybe a lounge or a restaurant. Ask that question in a year, and let’s see where we’re at.”