Envision, if you will, a hot summer day amidst the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020. With the sun beaming down on the parking lot of Northern Westchester Hospital, healthcare workers flocked to a trailer where free lunches were served by Jason Charles and his family, who own what is today Bazodee Street Foods.
Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela, Charles immigrated to America “some 20 years ago,” and has traveled far in pursuit of his dream of working in the food industry. Today, Bazodee is a staple food truck in the community, known for its global cuisine that bridges gaps in identity, culture and taste.
And with his new brick-and-mortar restaurant, located at 526 North Bedford Road in Bedford Hills, Charles is just getting started.
A family affair
Prior to handing out meals to healthcare workers during the pandemic, Charles worked for the United Nations as a canine officer for nearly two decades. Then, in the summer of 2018, while still working for the U.N., Charles and his wife Natalie began to put their dream into tangible action.
“This is a shared dream by me and my wife,” he says. “She’s really been a driving force behind opening the business, and this is not her line of work; she works in corporate America.”
At what he describes as a time when everyone seemed to run away from the restaurant business, Charles and his wife did the opposite. The two worked tirelessly, despite financial barriers, which he notes as undoubtedly the most difficult part of the restaurant industry.
First, they needed a space to work out of and a way to transport the food; their vehicle today is not the original. Charles found their first vehicle, a second-hand trailer from a Connecticut business, on Danbury’s Main Street. He noticed the “For Sale” sign on the trailer and went inside the churro shop to speak with the owner. He asked for the price, consulted his wife, “and the rest was history,” he says.
Finally, in the summer of 2020, two years after they first began organizing, Bazodee launched, providing free lunches at Northern Westchester Hospital. As the business grew, they expanded outward to neighboring towns and began making a profit.
Charles’ wife and their two daughters, now in seventh and twelfth grade, help out when they can, and they’ve hired a chef and several young people who live in the area.
“Our daughters are always there to help us out,” says Charles. “And my wife, her favorite job is taste testing!”
Also a major contributor to the business’s opening and ultimate success is Charles’ sister, Sheree. She, too, shared a passion for food, and dreamed of one day opening a cafe.
“This was a dream she put off many times and never realized,” Charles explains. “After my wife, she was my biggest supporter. Even while she was ill [with cancer], she would help me cook early in the morning before she went to her own job.”
Sadly, Sheree passed away in 2021, but her efforts towards helping Bazodee succeed made an impact on Charles and his family. She strongly supported Charles’ decision to leave his job at the UN and immerse himself in Bazodee full-time.
In January 2022, Bazodee received a major upgrade; Charles purchased a used bus from the Westchester Church of Christ in White Plains, which he immediately shipped to Virginia to be retrofitted as a food truck so it could pass both the Health Department’s and Department of Motor Vehicles’ inspections.
Five months later, the new and improved food truck was returned, allowing Bazodee to travel and cook across the county.
True global cuisine
Although Charles only began planning Bazodee about five and a half years ago, food has sat at the helm of his life since birth.
“The roots are deeper, with my mother and grandmother both being excellent cooks,” he explains. “Coming from a small, close-knit community, they were my go-to people to find out how to make great food, and I really tapped into that during my youth and then coming to the US. It was always my dream to continue to pursue that avenue.”
With this background and passion for food, Charles also pulled from his experiences working for the U.N. when opening Bazodee.
“My job allowed me the privilege of traveling all over the world and experiencing the richness of global foods,” says Charles.
This developed his passion for traveling and heavily influenced the ever-evolving menu at Bazodee. While many dishes demonstrate his Caribbean heritage, the menu is multicultural, featuring foods from all corners of the world.
“It’s really a blend of things I’ve experienced from the last 20 years that I decided I wanted to put together,” he says.
Flavors originate from a variety of regions, including Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Charles also prefers to put a signature “unique spin” on classic dishes, like their hamburger (one of his daughter Abby’s favorites) or a shrimp po’boy – a traditional New Orleans sandwich – with their own added flavors.
Their best sellers? Curried goat, originating from Jamaica, and their boneless chicken. Yet Charles’ personal favorite remains a Trinidadian street food, doubles: pieces of fried dough served with curried chickpeas and topped with mango and/or tamarind chutney.
“It’s an explosion of flavors,” Charles explains. “This is the type of food where, once you try it, you can never go back. It’s really incredible.”
He refreshes the menu often, introducing new flavors on a regular basis. He says not everything is always well received, and some people may like something while others may not.
Being unique to the area, Bazodee has traveled from the Bronx/New York City region up to northern Westchester, where they usually reside. The truck’s location can be found via Instagram or Facebook, and in the summer, Bazodee is often at Food Truck Fridays and other events.
New ventures, same values
Charles is now at “step two of the dream” – his a brick-and-mortar location in Bedford Hills, in the former Bueti’s Deli space. Here, he offers a traditional New York-style deli in tandem with Bazodee’s distinctive myriad of cuisines. The space will be mostly takeout with limited seating, featuring the deli, a salad and juice bar, a food buffet and a cafe. They expect to employ about 12 people and are eager to set this new venture into motion.
And in case you’re wondering, there is a “step three” of the dream: opening a sit-down restaurant, which they hope to achieve within the next couple of years.
“The thing that makes me the most happy is that, even though you can form prejudices in your mind about what people might like, the area has evolved into a place where people are really, really open-minded about food,” Charles says.
He says customers of all demographics and backgrounds are willing to try foods that are unfamiliar to them, which fulfills Charles. He enjoys knowing that he can introduce people to new flavors and, in turn, open doors to new worlds.
“And that is what motivates me to bring unique flavors to the area,” he continues. “Based on my experience over the last year, people in the northern Westchester area are open to having food that excites them, and we’re all about bringing that to them.”
Take the ride
While the Clark isn’t right around the corner, it is worth the drive. The art collection rivals most institutions in the world, and it will scratch your New York City itch at a far lower price and a much more peaceful commute. Best of all, it’s a year-round destination conveniently located next to the seasonal fun of the Berkshires and neighboring Vermont.
So make the trip. Hike outside amongst the flowers or simply view them through the eyes of Monet. There’s something here for most kinds of people, and it is an excellent day trip on any quiet weekend. You’ll be glad you went.
Beginning January 2, 2024, the Clark will be free to all through March 31, 2024. View “50 Years and Forward Works on Paper Acquisitions” from December 16, 2023 through March 10, 2024.
This article was published in the January/February 2024 edition of Connect to Northern Westchester