More than rum, a tale of slavery

Karl Franz Williams is opening a new Caribbean-infused gastropub in Harlem featuring 70 rums.
Photo by Aurora Fiorentino Scerbo

Curl up to a tasty rum-based cocktail, feast on classic European bar bites with a Caribbean twist and indulge on a story of resilience and drive at the newly established Solomon & Kuff.

This Harlem gastropub is providing more than just 70 different rums — representing various Caribbean, Central and South America countries. The story of rum’s connection to the triangle trade and roots in the Caribbean is what restaurateur Karl Franz Williams wishes to put on the forefront.

According to Williams, “I have a way for telling the rum story and I thought this was an opportunity to talk about a spirit that is connected to my culture and is absolutely delicious with a great story to tell.”

This story is interwoven directly into the foundation of Solomon & Kuff. Williams named his restaurant after Venture Smith’s sons Solomon and Cuff. Smith was a slave who was bought for four barrels of rum and who later bought his freedom and the freedom of his family. The restaurateur said there is a motivation to preserve and celebrate that legacy of drive presented by Venture Smith, while taking a minor liberty in switching the first letter of Cuff’s name to a K.

“As a black, Caribbean person and knowing the history of rum it was impossible for me to have a rum bar and not tell some of that story,” he explained. “It starts with rum, drive, entrepreneurship, and the spirit. He had two sons and their names were Solomon and Cuff, the idea is continuing the legacy of what he did.”

That same drive and entrepreneurial spirit is present in Williams, a Yale University graduate, Brooklyn native and of Vincentian descent.

This is not his first rodeo in opening a restaurant and bar; he first opened Society Coffee in 2005 which closed in 2011. While still operating Society Coffee, Williams opened 67 Orange Street in 2008 — a cocktail bar known for its masterly crafted drinks.

“When I met some mixologists and cocktail professionals who were showing that the journey was just as important, I fell in love with that and immersed myself,” he said.

His vision is greatly aided by a team who has been integral in doing the research, tasting, and adding to the growing list of rums. In particular, Nick Iattoni — who is director of operations, alongside his business partner Julie Grunberger, and Deirdra Govan who designed the space.

“It’s impossible to do something like this without a great team,” he said.

Solomon & Kuff officially opens its doors Dec. 11, located on 12 Avenue between 133 and 134 streets in Harlem.

Reach reporter Alley Olivier at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at aoliv[email protected] Follow Alley on Twitter @All3Y_B.

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