Owen Benhail Crownie, affectingly known as Ben has had an affliction for food since a young age. The Jamaican native’s first interaction with food was on a farm and from the amazement with his grandmother’s creative cooking.
As a teenager he lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., where his interest grew as a result of his decision to abstain from eating meat. A student of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, Crownie began his career there as a cook and became a manager after attending the KFC training program.
|IT’S IN THE HERBS—Chef and owner of the Royal Caribbean, Ben Crownie uses ingredients from all over the world. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)
By popular demand Crownie is a restaurant owner. In 1986 he opened what he classifies as the first full-fledged Caribbean grocery store in the Homewood community. A Pittsburgher since 1977, he traveled back and forth to New York City on a regular basis bringing Caribbean food and items back, always sharing his products with others. Often cooking his meals from the back of his grocery store he began selling it to customers and soon opened a community kitchen in the rear. Taking the suggestion from his customers he opened a restaurant on Broad Street in East Liberty.
“Back then I didn’t know much about operating a business,” he admitted. A 1982 graduate from Point Park College, he said by trial and error and by returning to New York City he learned. He operated the business until the mid-1990’s when he sold the business and opened the Royal Caribbean a decade later. Since 2007 he has operated at his current location, 128 South Highland Ave. and as they say, the rest is history. He now has customers from all over feasting on his Caribbean cuisine, a who’s who of Pittsburgh, students, professors, business people, politicians and athletes.
“We enjoy the food here,” said Moon Township resident Doug Johnson. He and his business partner Al Hyman, owners of GC2 Construction Co. have been dining at the restaurant since its inception. They identify their favorite dishes as the curry chicken, chicken and beef patties and shrimp three-way.
Dedicated to providing his customers with delightful quality food, Crownie who is also the chef says his goal is to create a “royal” standard of dining and service that will expose any person who taste his food to a unique combination of spices that they had never experienced before.
“By eating here you will excite your palate and please your senses so that you will know that you are in an authentic Jamaican restaurant,” he promises. “At the Royal Caribbean our standards are set high and we will only provide a top notch product and top notch service.”
Some of his best menu items, a mix of traditional and creative dishes are seafood fritters, beef, chicken and or shrimp patties, curry and jerk chicken, curried goat, escovitch fish, brown stew fish, ox tails, royal shrimp, curry shrimp and jerk shrimp, fried ripe and fried green plantain. He also serves tofu and vegetable dishes and homemade beverages inclusive of ginger beer and mango pineapple carrot. Cola champagne, coconut water and ting are included. Desserts are carrot cake, Jamaican rum cake, vanilla rum cake and mango cheesecake. Prices range as low as two dollars for soup, three dollars for an appetizer and as moderate as $15 dollars for entrees that include two side dishes.
The Royal Caribbean offers an intimate dining experience; often soft island style music plays in the background with natural light and Jamaican pastel vibrant colored walls. A bamboo style beachside cabana creates a pleasant Caribbean style atmosphere with seating for 40 to 50 people. The wait staff consists of Crownie’s family, with the regular customers calling and knowing Sonya by name.
Take out is a big part of the business and catering is offered for parties of three to 400 people.
Located on South Highland Avenue between Baum Boulevard and Penn Circle South in the East Liberty business district, Crownie says business is doing much better now that the street construction has been completed. “This is a growing area. There are a variety of restaurants and stores that draw people to the community. Our goal is to be the premier stop for Caribbean cuisine in the city of Pittsburgh.”
Excited yet apprehensive about the future of his business, Crownie views his focus as promotions. Using a mix of traditional and social media marketing tools he said his message is simple. The Royal Caribbean is the best of its kind in the region. “Using the best seasonings, spices and ingredients from all over the world, we strive to provide nutritious, delightful and quality food to our patrons.”