Alvin Clayton standing in front of one of his Matisse paintings inside his restaurant, Alvin & Friends.
Alvin Clayton’s Secret Sauce
Walk into Alvin & Friends in New Rochelle, and you know you’re in for a big and special night. The restaurant walls are covered with magical paintings and portraits, all by the owner, Alvin Clayton. “The restaurant is my gallery,” he says contentedly. “I paint every day.”
He cooks, too. “It’s a longtime passion that I inherited from my grandmother in Trinidad.” The menu is a mix of flavorful Caribbean and Southern cuisine. Try his fried chicken or oxtail stew.
The reason Clayton named the restaurant Alvin & Friends is that he’s always enjoyed the best meals with friends. He goes out of his way to greet guests at the door, “because the way guests are treated when they walk in sets up their whole meal.”
Seven years ago, he retired after a distinguished modeling career. He was the first black man to make the cover of GQ and was on many more. “Through modeling I got to travel all over the world. During the months I was in Paris, I would go to the Musée D’Orsay and paint Matisse.”
One night, while he was living in Manhattan, his agent from Wilhelmina stopped by his loft and after spending several minutes gazing at his walls, which were covered with his paintings, she mentioned she had a friend that owned an art gallery. At Clayton’s first show, 19 of the 27 pieces exhibited sold in two weeks.
While he shared that he’d imagined becoming an artist from a young age, “how do you tell your Caribbean parents who made so many sacrifices in order that you could grow up in America that you want to become an artist?” he said with no trace of regret.
This summer, Iona College streamed Clayton’s first virtual show, “Unapologetically Me”. “Being in business, I’ve never been one to rock the boat, but after the death of George Floyd, I knew I needed to use my voice as an artist.”
Alvin Clayton not only has a voice, but a kind and generous spirit. He and his wife Gwen, who runs “the back of the house” at Alvin & Friends and plans the parties, chose New Rochelle as the place they wanted to raise their four children, for its diversity, its sense of community. When the pandemic hit, and it hit New Rochelle hard, he was cooking up meals for the first responders.
His secret sauce is empathy.
Taking us around the restaurant to see his paintings, he remarks that most of his portraits are of family members. We are invited to see the back room where movie nights and special occasions are held. He hopes we’ll come back on weekend Jazz Nights.
As Clayton walks us to the door, he is excited to tell us that IMG is going to represent him, and he’ll be doing a little modeling again. After half an hour in his company, nursing a glass of water at the bar, we feel like friends.
- Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott