A little over three months ago, Upper Marlboro resident Emmanuel Alexander realized a dream he had since he was young – he was a restaurant owner.
Instead of raising buildings, he was frying dough filled with chickpeas and spices and sauces from the Caribbean.
A construction worker by trade Alexander jumped at the opportunity to take over ownership of Under the Coconut Tree Caribbean Café n' Bakery when the previous owners put it up for sale.
"The opportunity came and the economy was down so there was not a lot of construction work," he said. "I grew up cooking [in Trinidad and Tobago]. This was a dream I always had."
Alexander and his wife took over the restaurant on May 29, expanding the menu and then expanding the hours in June during the DC Caribbean Carnival. The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
"We stayed open 24 hours during carnival time from Friday to Sunday," Alexander said. "People still come in late and a lot of them are return customers [who know we're open]."
Paula Andrews, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, said she goes to Under the Coconut Tree almost every Saturday and has patronized the restaurant since the previous ownership opened about two years ago.
"The food tastes really good and it's a like having a little piece of home," she said. "The atmosphere is like home."
Darren Gardiner, also from Trinidad and Tobago, said it's the food that has him in the restaurant almost every other day.
"Good service, nice people, good food. Good, home-cooked food. Authentic food," he said. "The food is better than the other [Caribbean] restaurants in the area."
Alexander, who said he would cater friends' parties and events from time to time, said his father was a cook and a waiter and assumed that's where he got his ability to cook.
"I wasn't taught, I just picked it up. I always cooked a lot [growing up]," he said.
The restaurant offers a wide variety of food, ranging from breakfast pastries and patties to sandwiches and stew chicken – Alexander's personal favorite.
Under the Coconut Tree provides catering, curbside service, and delivery to limited areas. Check out the menu online or follow the restaurant on Facebook.