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The Story behind Leon Ellis – Restauranteur

a man wearing a suit and tie

Mr. Leon Ellis is no stranger when it comes to food and hospitality in New York City. From an early age, he knew that he had a passion for food and all the intricacies that make food and flavors so interesting. This interest lead him to pursue his education in food science and nutrition from Tuskegee University in Alabama. Not long after graduating, Leon decided that he wanted to open up his very first restaurant which he named after his mother. Emily’s Restaurant and Bar hit the scene in 1992 in East Harlem on 111th street and Fifth Avenue. For year’s, Emily’s was viewed as a highly respected establishment and that validated Harlem as viable business location. Always wanting to continue working on his craft and keep striving for more, Leon decided to open up his second location, this time named after his father. Oscar’s Famous BBQ bought authentic Texas style BBQ right to the heart of Harlem. Family has always been very important to Leon and getting to name his first two establishments after the two people who’ve inspired him the most was quite an achievement. 

As an entrepreneur and proud to be a black business owner in New York, Leon has owned various businesses over the years. His impeccable work ethic and great relationships with the community has earned him a reputation as one of Harlem’s most upstanding business leaders. Some of his other ventures include MOCA Bar and Grill, a full service lounge which has become the destination of choice for people who want to entertain friends and business associates in a fun, trendy, and appealing environment. The lounge has an extensive specialty drink and appetizer menu. But Leon’s entrepreneurial spirit goes beyond just food and hospitality. Leon is also the owner of Harlem Underground. Harlem Underground markets the largest line of the Harlem USA merchandise in the country for over twenty two years. A major component of the operation is the custom embroidery division. The marketing of Leon’s original Harlem designs is done both in the store from their Flagship locations in Harlem and on online at

In 2010, Leon decided open up Chocolat Restaurant and Bar located on Frederick Douglas and 120th street. A great location with an eclectic and diverse crowd that truly represents Harlem. Chocolat serves a delicious array soul food and contemporary American cuisine. Chocolat quickly became a popular establishment known for its beautiful design and incredible food.

No matter what the venture, Leon Ellis continues to strive for the best and put forth the best product possible. He fundamentally believes in putting God first and giving thanks for the various opportunities that he’s been given. Leon starts his day with a prayer and morning run because keeping the mind and body right will ensure that he has perform optimally. Community is also extremely important to Leon. He continues to do what he can to make sure that those in the community who are in need are able to receive resources and help by using his various platforms as an outlet. During the recent COVID-19 outbreaks, Leon teamed up with several organizations to help feed essential staff and others the community who are in need. In addition, he believes that he has a responsibility as a black businessman and entrepreneur to the Harlem Community in which he does business. His commitment is demonstrated in many ways including the development of an extensive training program for residents of Harlem.

This program has been as rewarding for the establishment as much as it has been for the employees who participated and those who are currently participating. The execution of this program has continuously given valuable insight into how deeply necessary a program like this is needed in our community. It gives Leon and his team a great sense of accomplishment to see the enormous effect that this type of training has on the lives of the people who are involved in this program.

Mr. Ellis is a proud member of Mount Nebo Baptist Church in Harlem and the Samson No.65 Masonic Lodge of New York, NY and currently serves on the Board of the Harlem Renaissance Development Corporation in the position of Vice Chairman.  Leon has also created the Emily Ellis Scholarship Foundation and served as the director of a Mentoring program sponsored through the Emily Ellis Scholarship Foundation in conjunction with the New York City Housing Authority which he continues as a benefit to the community.