New York is in a Golden Age of Bodega Food

The Lempert Report
September 05, 2023

Eater writes that New York is in a Golden Age of Bodega Food. Now if you are not a New Yorker, you may not truly understand the importance of Bodegas. These are small food stores that are typically run by immigrants that around just about every corner. According to the United Bodegas of America, an organization to help, advise, assist, and protect the interests of winemakers and small businesses, there are over 13,000 bodegas in New York City alone. In other parts of the nation, you might think of them as C-stores, but the major differences is that each NY bodega has its own personality, usually centered around a well stocked deli and prepared foods to go and most are independently owned. The story in Eater explains how these bodegas are igniting culinary innovation and have become incubators. One example is chopped cheese, a sandwich containing ground beef with onions, melted cheese, lettuce, tomatoes on a hero roll. Some argue it started in the Bronx, others say Harlem, but what’s clear is that it has remained an enduring influence on New York food culture, as well as expanding nationwide.

In Queens a group of restaurant owners, tired of struggling during and after the pandemic, opened a Thai buffet in the back of the Lopez Marketplace bodega. Sunny & Annie's a 24 hour deli has, according to Eater, been serving some of NYC's most creative sandwiches  combining ingredients like bulgogi, bacon, and canteloupe and creating dish names that riff on politics and other cultural events. It seems like the bodega of yesteryear, that specialized in making sandwiches of turkey, salami or roast beef have evolved into gastronomy meccas. You can glam it on the food network, the evolving palate of New Yorkers, or the pandemic, but the reality is that many of these bodegas are now owned by entrepreneurs who do a lot more than just wait for neighborhood customers to stop in for a quick sandwich or the produce and groceries that line their shelves. Rahim Mohamed runs what some might call NYC’s most social media-famous bodega. The deli counter is his stage: The Yemeni American owner freestyles the menu, deciding sandwich combinations on a whim — the “Ocky Way” — which might include pancakes and hot sauce. The “Ocky Way” is part of the trend of proprietors messing around with what bodega food looks like — and they are on social media telling the world online. Datz Deli in Hollis, Queens, is one of a handful of spots that have benefited financially from this social media boom — reportedly raking in $165,000 a month, according to CBS — and bringing in new customers traveling to wait hours on line. As restaurants and delivery services increase their prices and have to cope with higher food costs, higher labor costs and a shortage of workers - the new bodega might just be the solution. Supermarkets that are reimagining what their grocerant or food hall formats should be, should take a trip to New York City and go bodega hopping.

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