By Jill Webb
A Huntington resident with a passion for cooking opened her doors to help the people of her native Haiti, and in reaching out that helping hand, has made the world a bit smaller and better.
At 14 years old, Marie Michele Destil moved from her native island of Haiti to the United States. Now, 35 years later, Destil is the owner of Gingerbites Restaurant & Catering in Huntington Station.
At Gingerbites, along with serving authentic Haitian cuisine, Destil has used her business as a platform to help Haitian relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Destil said she has always had a love for cooking and showed signs of being the entrepreneur she would become at a young age.
“I remember when I was maybe 10 or 11 my mother would have friends come over and I’d go make coffee and then serve it with bread and sell it to them,” she said. “If you don’t buy it, I’ll cry.”
After her 18-year-old twin girls and 22-year-old son went off to college, Destil wanted to focus on something more grounded and local. Destil decided to use her experience in catering to open up Gingerbites in late 2015. The restaurant aims at bringing the culture and cuisine of Haiti to Huntington Station.
“We’re from an island, so we’re very simple people with very distinct taste and a very distinct way of life,” Destil said.
Then when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, more than 1,000 of Haiti’s citizens were killed according to Reuters. Destil said upon hearing the shocking news the first thing she thought about was the people.
“You have to remember not that long ago we came from the earthquake in Haiti, so that was the most devastating thing that ever happened to us there,” she said. “But when Matthew happened, you’re like ‘Oh, my God.’ But my thought is that no matter what happened, Haitian people are resilient people. They’ll survive. It’s hard, it’s difficult, but they’re not quitters.”
Destil had and continues to have a strong faith in her homeland, despite all it’s been through.
“That island [has] gone through a lot but with the help of God it’s still standing,” she said.
The restaurant owner recognized the importance of supporting her homeland and the residents struggling in Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath.
Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) recalled when Haitian groups were starting to partner with the Town of Huntington’s relief efforts, Destil jumped at the chance to help.
“She’s a very bubbly and hardworking person,” Cuthbertson said.
Destil partnered with the town in November 2016 to raise donations for the charity, Meds & Food for Kids. The nonprofit organization focuses on the malnourished children of Haiti, providing them with ready-to-use therapeutic food. Their food is made in Haiti by Haitian workers, and they aim to use Haitian raw materials as much as possible.
One of the many reasons that charity was so important to Destil was her love for children.
“I love all kids, I’m a sucker for that,” Destil said.
Also important in narrowing down the search was to find a charity where most of the proceeds go directly to people in need. Finding out that the Meds & Food charity gives the majority of its proceeds to the children made it an easy choice.
“The children [are] our future, so invest in them,” she said.
Destil was honored Oct. 26 at the town’s 16th annual Women’s Networking Day luncheon for her charitable efforts.
As her business continues to grow, Destil hopes in the future to partner with more charities to help the Haitian community as much as she possibly can.