THIS TEXT ORIGINALLY APPEARS IN THE STORY “TEACH ME HOW TO DOUGIE” FROM THE MARCH 2011 ISSUE OF XXL. ON SALE NOW
Doug E.’s isn’t your average Harlem chicken-and-waffles spot. Rap legend, record producer, beat-box innovator and Harlemite Doug E. Fresh opened the family-run restaurant in September 2010 with the goal of offering good food while providing the youth in the community a local hangout.
Located in the heart of Harlem—at 132nd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard—the uptown location allows Fresh to stay close to his roots. “I love Harlem,” says Fresh. “I’ve been all over the world, but Harlem is the world to me. I opened up the business here to bring more value to the community.” And that hometown pride is on full display, as the walls are tagged with colorful 1980s graffiti, and the small establishment pays homage to hip-hop heavy hitters like Big L, Cam’ron and Sean “Diddy” Combs—all Uptown natives—blasting their classic hits throughout the eatery’s sound system.
With only a few tables and a shiny metal counter to sit at, the cash-only place caters mainly to takeout diners. The Human Beatbox keeps his menu simple, specializing in a combination of tasty golden fried chicken and cinnamon-tinged waffles. With a traditional Caribbean menu, Doug E.’s serves rice ’n’ peas, a selection of chicken and fish and a healthy dose of vegetables.
Doug E.’s has cultivated a large hip-hop clientele. Fellow Harlem MC Black Rob calls Doug E.’s “the east-side Roscoe’s,” referencing the famed Los Angeles chicken-and-waffles franchise. While Rob favors the mac and cheese and smothered chicken, on any given day, it’s not uncommon to run into Kid Capri, The Lox and other hip-hop artists ordering a number of favorites from the flavorful menu.
Aside from providing Harlemites with their first trendy hip-hop-friendly eatery since the days of legendary establishments like Willie Burger and Pan Pan, Fresh also opened his restaurant as a source of employment for youth in his Harlem neighborhood. “I wanted to be able to give kids in the community jobs and make sure they know the value of eating well,” he says. “This would be the equivalent to Happy Days, where everyone hangs because the vibe is so good. It’s not unusual to see a group of us battling or beat-boxing. We have new artists that come by and drop music off. Our music game is crazy. I like to keep that spirit alive.”
Now that’s fresh. —Nicole LoPresti
DOUG E FRESH ISN’T THE ONLY RAPPER WITH AN EATERY. READ ON TO LEARN ABOUT AND RATE OTHER HIP-HOP RESTAURANTS.