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What if I told you that the same architectural designs one may find in the iconic Chrysler or Empire State buildings can be found in the designs of most residential buildings in the Bronx? The skyscrapers of the Boogie Down might not be as high up as that of Manhattan, but the two boroughs share more than slabs of concrete and connecting subway lines.
Tasked with exploring the history of Art Deco in the Bronx, honestly, I didn’t have the slightest idea where to begin. I know nothing about architecture. I mean, I think buildings are pretty, and I like taking photos of them, but to explore the angles and curves of why the architect chose one design over another and their motivations, I’m completely at a lost! I figured I’d start the way I’ve always did with a paper: go to the library (you thought I was going to say wikipedia or Google...shout out to the old school crew who know what the Dewey Decimal system is).
So what is Art Deco? Art deco is a “style of decoration used for both the interior and the exterior design of buildings”, including the product design of both useful and decorative objects such as appliances, clothing, posters, and advertisements. The term “Art Deco” was introduced at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs (Exposition of Decorative Arts) from which the style derives its name. The 1920s and 30s saw much advancement in modern innovative design in America, and architecture was not one to be left behind. Art deco, in some ways, celebrates an array of influences from which it pulls. Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman in their book, Architecture: From Prehistory to Post-Modernism, define art deco as “an amalgam of Cubist-inspired European Modernism, with streamlined, rhythmic machine forms, exotic Pre-Columbian and Navajo zigzag imagery, and a love of gaudy colors and shiny materials such as plastic, aluminum, and stainless steel along with sumptuous wood and stones.” (Insert long inhale.)
There are many buildings on the Manhattan island which exemplify this description to the tee: as mentioned above, the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, Radio City Music Hall, and Rockefeller Center. But in the Bronx? Well, it’s actually a lot more visible to us then we realize.
Enter in Mark. I met him a few Saturdays ago while on a visit to the Bronx County Historical Museum. I figured if there were any place that would have anything archival about Art Deco in the Bronx, it had to be here! Our meeting was all the more serendipitous: I had failed to realize that one needed to make an appointment at the museum to review their archives, but Mark, a Bronx native, happened to be at the museum that day, and took the time to speak with me about art deco and toured with me along the Grand Concourse to where a majority of this style can be seen.
“Art Deco was the hot scene in Europe,” he began. “Many immigrants from that time migrated from Germany, and brought with them the architectural design with them. Sleek lines, detailed brickwork [with] different color bricks, or maybe they’ll have a little bit of an outcropping on the edge sticking out so as to break up the surface [plane of the building]. The interiors had sunk in living rooms, some with one or two steps leading into them; parkay floors, metal railings. Levers in the bathroom so you can hang your laundry so that they’ll drip over the sink. Modern state of the art, 1920s, and that was a big draw. Near the Grand Concourse was the place to be.”
The Grand Concourse, formerly known as the “Grand Boulevard and Concourse”, per Mark, was designed by French immigrant, Louis Aloys Risse. His vision of the Grand Concourse mirrored that of the Champs-Élysées but would include bicycle paths, pedestrian sidewalks and “three distinct roadways split by lush landscaping”. Currently along this boulevard stands some of New York’s most beautiful art deco co-op buildings. (To learn more about what makes the Grand Concourse so “grand”, check out this article in Brick Underground featuring the Bronx’s own Ed García Conde, founder of Welcome2theBronx.)
There are many distinctive features and benefits to Art Deco buildings. One feature/benefit Mark highlights are how thoughtful these buildings were designed. “The buildings were put up to allow for maximum light and to accommodate efficient living: the bathroom is right next to the bedroom, the kitchen is off to the side, usually a galley kitchen, and then the dining area. And then you would step down into your living area. These apartments were made with a lot of thought on how people live and function.”
In thinking about my own apartment, which I love dearly, and receives a wealth of light all around and throughout, I recall my initial process when looking for an apartment; and how adamant all my friends were about having a “prewar building” (when really I just needed A BUILDING!). I paused Mark in our discussion to inquire about the difference between the terms “prewar” and “art deco”: “One is a realtor’s term, the other is an architectural term”, Mark defined. So be careful out there, my fellow apartment seekers!
We talked more about the influence of art deco in Syracuse, Nashville, and many other American cities, and as appreciative I was of Mark’s time, I needed to make my way to the “Grand Boulevard and Concourse” to take in what I had learned. “I’ll come along with you!” Mark exclaimed. Our walk began at E 204 and E Mosholu Pkwy where stood two residential buildings facing one another. “Look at the curved edges,” Mark pointed out. This was another unique quality of art deco buildings. “Art deco buildings either had curved or straight edges, which could be a nightmare for interior designers! Let’s see if we can go inside!”
We walked into the entrance of 200 E 204 street. The floor was covered with multicolored tile, the faces of the steps that of cracked marble. Mark points to the walls. “Check out this design. This design, and the coloring, is typical in front areas of some art deco buildings.” We stood in the front entrance, admiring the lobby from behind another set of doors we couldn’t get through. Mark immediately points out the heat grate, the design resembling that of sun rays. As Mark began to talk about the design of the elevator door, a mailman and a resident of the building came in behind us. “Oh! Great, we can get a better look!” The building was warm, and a door somewhere on the first floor was open blasting loud party music which felt rather contrast to the mission at hand. Looking at the elevator door, I’m reminded of Batman. Actually, all things art deco remind me of Batman and the Gotham aesthetic. We round a corner and Mark points out a defunct trash shoot, its door painted bright orange. Another heat grate with the sun rays design comes into view, this time the rays looked to be sprayed painted off-white to match the adjacent wall.
Getting our fill of art deco from our first location (and I growing nervous that someone might think us as loiterings), we leave the building and try our luck with the one across the street at 190th. Immediately, the building is at sharp contrast to the one we just left. And I mean SHARP! Shiny silver metal doors greet you as you walk up along the rounded grey carpet underneath the exterior outcrop. These first set of doors led to another set of shiny silver doors. We were barred from entering, but didn’t stop ourselves from pressing our faces against the glass to see the lobby. Eggshell white walls with vertical stripes of red and soft yellow; the infamous art deco floor design ran all the way out of view from where we stood, designed with various geometric shapes in black, yellow, white and grey. A mirror hung above what resembled a curved fireplace, simply reflected the egg shell white opposite it. Another heating grate, which appeared more modern than the two others at the adjacent building was painted that same soft yellow, the outline of the sun and its rays more apparent.
Standing there, there was something poetic about the design, and not being able to touch it frustrated me a little. We waited a little longer to see if anyone would let us in, my money on the mailman. No one came, and so we left.
Eventually, I parted ways with Mark, so happy to have spent the afternoon exploring together. He waited for me at the bus stop and urged me to sit somewhere on the bus where I could take in all the art deco that lines along the Grand Concourse. The entire ride I looked at the Grand Concourse with almost new eyes: outcropping brickwork with alternating colors, curved edges, straight edges, mosaic designs, large windows that took in lots of light. Many public institutions reflected the design of art deco as well. The more obvious sites like the Bronx County Building still hold fast to this design, including the Emigrant Savings Bank. As I continued my route back home, I wondered if the people who walked this boulevard day in and day out appreciated the beauty of this part of the Bronx. It definitely has helped me to love it even more.
To learn more about art deco in the Bronx, including that beyond the Grand Concourse, I recommend checking out the Art Deco Society of New York’s website. They have an online registry of every borough. You can view the Bronx registry here.
The Bronx is home to artists, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs and regular folks, who make our borough vibrant, diverse, and dynamic. At Bronx Narratives, we look forward to learning about and sharing the innumerable stories that exist in our hometown.
Reading that Mary Higgins Clark, Al Pacino, and Carl Reiner, are all native Bronxites shocked me. To think that some of my favorite artists and writers are from my hometown inspired me to continue honing my writing skills, because maybe, just maybe, I can become a successful Bronxite like them. But, I shouldn’t have been too surprised by the various talents that came up in our borough, after all our grit and resilience are bar none.
As we head into 2019, we invite you to meet some of the Bronx Narratives team members who are striving to make the Bronx a little better than the way they’ve found it.
Dondre Green, Creative Director & Founder
HN: What led you to create Bronx Narratives?
DG: Me and the co-captains felt the need to change the narrative of the borough and let Bronxites create their own instead of being stereotyped by often outdated and misinformed media. The Bronx isn't perfect, we have a ways to go but I'm happy to be a part of the mission.
Decota Letman, Logistics Coordinator
HN: What would you most like to see brought to the Bronx (affordable housing, jobs, etc.)?
DL: More creative spaces for an intergenerational audience and more restaurants/lounges for everyone! We shouldn’t have to leave the Bronx to chill or eat.
Sabrina Hall, Lead Online Editor & Co-Art Director
HN: What are you most passionate about?
SH: At the moment, mentoring and helping people grow their passions.
Hoay Smith, Art Director
HN: What do you love most about the Bronx?
HS: I appreciate an environment that brings me peace - there's plenty of greenery amid the concrete. Walks in the park, meditating to the sounds of a running river, watching the sun set, birds chirping. That's what I love about the borough.
Pedro Pincay, Social Media & Field Data
HN: What’s your favorite restaurant in the Bronx?
PP: Liberato Restaurant in Burnside Ave off the 4 train.
Jeannie Smith, Writer
HN: What are you most passionate about?
JS: Travel travel travel travel travel! I moved around a lot when I was younger and often had to acclimate to new environments and I feel that has inspired this love and need to see the world. I solo travel often, which annoys my friends lol, but it’s a form of self care for me that I greatly value whenever I can. I’m also passionate about culture and learning about people and languages (anthropology nerd!)
Kayla Smith, Illustrator and Podcast Co-Host
HN: What would you most like to see brought to the Bronx (affordable housing, jobs, etc.)?
KS: Anything that will help the Bronx and her residents thrive. I do believe we need more job opportunities in the Bronx but I'd also like us to create them by owning businesses.
For my first assignment as a new staff writer for Bronx Narratives, I conducted a brief interview with Dondre Green, the founder of the online and physical Bronx based publication Bronx Narratives. Dondre, who is a native of the Bronx, as well as the magazines lead photographer and creative director, granted me access into a deeper look inside the publication.
RICHARD DEFINO: Hi Dondre. Before we get started, I wanted to take the time to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to write for Bronx Narratives; it’s a real honor to work with you and share my story with Bronx readers, writers and artists alike, both from the Bronx and outside our home borough.
For my first story with Bronx Narratives, I’ve been selected to interview you--my goal is to familiarize the readers with yourself and Bronx Narratives. I’m really excited about this interview and thought we could first start with an introduction of yourself before we got into the thick of it. Thank you!
RICHARD: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
DONDRE: I’m a Bronx-born and raised curious human who enjoys simple things and creating solutions. Some of my passions include: Photography, Design (Graphic, Interior & Stage), Basketball and Community.
RICHARD: What inspired you to start Bronx Narratives?
DONDRE: I felt there was a niche in our local media sources to create something that felt more authentic, more innovative while being fully community centered. In 2014, after me, Decota (our now Logistics coordinator) and Hoay (our now Art Director) threw our first Bronx event ever at The Point, I wondered what building a long term community infrastructure would look like and how we could attract and share more interesting Bronxites in a variety of ways.
We met up with people who attended the event a few weeks later at The Bronx Library and started listening to ideas of what Bronx Narratives could look like from the eyes of people who live here. It was refreshing.
In addition, my friend Jack Sommer, also played a huge role in the publication, I’d actually say he low-key mentored me during the early stages, he’s always been someone to help people near to him organize their ideas and offer honest feedback with anything you present his way and for him I’m thankful.
RICHARD: What can people expect from Bronx Narratives in 2019?
DONDRE: I think each year we’re trying to grow and challenge ourselves by taking leaps that allow us to continue our mission and I believe in 2019 ongoing local partnerships will allow us to event plan and be a bit more strategic with our goals when it comes to serving the community.
RICHARD: What changes will there be from previous years?
DONDRE: I don’t think they’ll be changes per se but as each year passes by, the captains and I all approach each year with a new level of focus and setting the tone with the energy we expect from our teammates.
RICHARD: What do you love/dislike the most about the Bronx?
DONDRE: The people. I love Bronx people, they’re resilient. If you know where to go, you know what the Bronx has to offer when it comes to food. Things I dislike are public transportation within borough and lack of resources for low-income individuals.
RICHARD: What was your favorite street pastime as a kid? For example; manhaunt, stickball, hanging with friends, etc..
DONDRE: I would play basketball pretty much all day with my brother during the summers, just to stay active. Most times with my neighbors too to spice up the competition. Reflecting on it, those were really fun times.
RICHARD: From your perspective as a Bronxite, innovator, or just as Dondre Green, what are you most proud of?
DONDRE: I think putting Bronx Narratives in a space to serve the community in ways I’ve never imagined is a start. For instance at our Bronx Day Party at the Bronx Museum this past year, afterwards I felt charged up seeing everyone come together and share that special unity we hold in our hearts. My team has been planting seeds for quite some time now.
RICHARD: Dondre this was great, thank you for your time and for allowing me to interview you! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Bronx Narratives.
DONDRE: Thank you and glad to have you on board.
Filmmaker, Adiana Rivera, can be found around the borough capturing the pulse of events and collaborating with other Bronx creatives. Adiana is a vibrant personality with a knack for storytelling through her video work. She’s recently embarked on a new visual project, called “Bronx Boys” which highlights men from the Bronx. I initially saw her numerous posts about the project on Instagram, so I reached out to her to learn more about the inner-workings and what prompted her to start it.
1) What inspired Bronx Boys? Why was it important for you to create it?
In general, the Bronx inspired me. I grew up here my entire life and I’ve always loved what the Bronx gave to me. I wanted to give something back, but didn’t know how. Documentaries and photos are insanely powerful, and that’s the only tool I knew to use, so I wanted to create a documentary about the Bronx. I always loved profile pieces whether in articles or in documentaries, because I felt they talk about broader issues using the subject’s day to day life. And then one day my thought process fell on my brother. I thought about his pre-teen to teen years growing up in The Bronx. I remember being in elementary school and walking to the corner with him so he could fight another kid because he spoke badly about our mother. I remember him coming home bloody from a fight. He was just surrounded by a lot of violence once he left home and entered the streets. It always felt as if he was protecting his manhood. He had a different outlook on life.
A lot of other Bronx Boys I would meet were these amazing, talented individuals, with these similar stories to my brother. They were poets, painters, athletes, rappers or honestly just the sweetest individuals, but each of them shared a violent past in someway or another.
It just felt so important to create this project to highlight them, because I needed people to see these boys for who they were. Not just a statistic, not just their borough, not just another story. I needed people to know that gems were created from The Bronx despite any hardships. I needed others to know that this borough provides inspiration and is the home to some of the strongest, most creative, passionate people I know. I needed people to know that the violence is just a factor from our circumstances.
2) Have you read the book “Bronx Boys” by Stephen Shames?
I haven’t read Bronx Boys, but once I’m finally done with this project I’m going to reward myself with buying Stephen Shames book. I wonder if there are going to be any overlapping messages and ideas between his book and my mini-documentary series.
3) How did you come up with the name “Bronx Boys?
It’s kind of silly how I came up with the name. I was just sitting thinking of titles that would fit with the Bronx just cause. First I landed on Bronx Bars, and thought I could do a Bronx Bar crawl, which I did attempt too but I never edited any of the footage and only filmed on my iPhone. Then Bronx Boys popped up in my head and I knew that would be the perfect title for my project.
4) How long did it take you to complete this project?
The project still isn’t complete yet. It’s a ton of work. The first four episodes took almost 3 months because there was so much trial and error. I’m still working on the last four episodes and my hope is that I can finish it in about 2 months. Actually, I shouldn’t say hope, because it has to be completed within that time frame, as the first four episodes are dropping before the last four are completed. So overall, it’s probably a 5 month long process.
5) How’d you go about choosing the boys in each episode? Why specifically did you choose to highlight boys?
I chose four boys who inspired me. In reality, they’re grown men, but the term “Boy” refers to their childhood and the idea that as the Bronx grows, so do they.
With the four that I’ve chosen, we’ve run in similar circles either from my childhood or my semi-recent involvement with The Bronx. Their passion and past had me in awe. I decided to highlight boys, because of my brother and all of the male individuals I’ve met who grew up in The Bronx. I felt as if these men encompass the Bronx overall. They’ve encountered Bronx violence. They’ve had to survive with less than ideal not ideal circumstances, but it didn’t matter. Their passion and their love for the Bronx didn’t falter.
6) Did you film and edit everything yourself? If so, what was that process like?
I did film and edit everything myself! The process was a mix of simple and insanely hard. On paper it’s setting up a time to meet with one of the men, interview them, capture b-roll, edit once footage is captured. But of course setting up times were difficult, because everyone is living their own life with their own busy schedule. Filming gets harder the colder it gets, and the more it rains. Then once I was done and it was time to edit, which was hard because the only feedback I had was mine. The only person I could really bounce ideas off of was myself. Eventually I did turn to other creatives for advice and opinions, but there was a lot of internal dialogue for this project.
7) What do you hope people gain from viewing this project?
I want them to gain insight and have conversations. By the end of all the episodes, I want them to wonder about The Bronx and everyone who lives in the borough. I want people to see how a Bronx Boy’s life is complicated, layered, and beautiful.
8) What was the biggest challenge in creating this project?
I think the biggest challenge was myself. I’ve had this idea for awhile now, but I always came up with excuses to wait. Even when the process finally began, I would be scared to film and once I got the courage up to actually film, I wouldn’t want to even look at the footage. I had to convince myself that this project didn’t have to be perfect, it just had to exist. I just had to get it out there for everyone to see.
Follow Adiana Rivera on her Instagram page., to stay up to date with the series.
Observed on the cover page of the Inspiring Teens’ Futures Program Book
“Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills.” Jim Rohn
In the poorest congressional district in the United States, Alhassan Susso urgently arrives at work before school begins and leads zero period, or, the Inspiring Teens’ Futures program. Alhassan teaches his students about leadership, professionalism, and communication skills. But, it’s Alhassan’s mastery of communication that allows him to clearly connect with his pupils: “The more you learn and understand the world, the better you can see.” he says. Mr. Susso, who is legally blind and has lived with 20/80 vision in one eye for most of his life due to retinitis pigmentation (a rare disease that blinds by working its way from the periphery to the eye’s center), doesn’t let any obstacle stand in his way. Alhassan wakes up at 4:00 am every morning to travel four hours to and from work in the South Bronx. Alhassan’s relentless commitment to his students has been formed by personal hardship, tragedy and, most importantly, perseverance.
As the son of one of Gambia’s most renowned Griots, Alhaji “Papa” Susso of the Mandinka tribe, Alhassan knows the importance of communication, more specifically, the power of storytelling. “Griots have a long history dating back to the Mali Empire during the 13th Century. They were important to leaders as they helped them maintain power” says Alhassan. The Griot storyteller is responsible for preserving and orating the stories of West African families in order to keep the culture and traditions of their people alive. As a history teacher Alhassan helps his students better understand where they are in their own particular stories and how to create a vision for what they want in life. Mr. Susso often guides his class in creating Dream Boards (paper boards featuring magazine and print out clippings pasted onto them) to illustrate what students want to achieve and how to begin developing their goals and accomplishing them. This “show and tell” subtly allows Alhassan to teach his students the ways of the Griot, a reality they may not even be aware of.
At Bronx International High School all of the students are immigrants, like Alhassan once was, newly arrived and unsure of their new environment. To be admitted into the school, students must not have lived more than four years in the United States, and with sparse parental involvement in their daily lives (as many of them work multiple minimum wage jobs), assimilation can be tough. On a recent class trip to Philadelphia funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Alhassan’s students were able to bond and develop camaraderie. “The trip really serves as the culmination of the things we learned in class,” says Alhassan “they become much closer than ever before and over the weekend they shared personal struggles and realized they’re in this together.”
When Alhassan arrived in America from Gambia at the age of sixteen, he enrolled at Poughkeepsie High School. It was there, under the tutelage of Alhassan’s favorite teacher, Ms. Felter, that the young man developed the skills that have propelled him to write a memoir, obtain a masters degree in education, and become the 2018 New York State Teacher of the Year. Among other things, Ms. Felter laid the groundwork for the Inspiring Teens’ Futures program by helping Alhassan find shelter when he was homeless and welcoming him to Poughkeepsie High with open arms. Ms. Felter‘s warmth and dedication to her students is visible to this day in Mr. Susso’s teaching methodology, as her practices of allowing students to keep their coats securely stowed away in her classroom and meeting with students before and after class to have one on one conversations, are some of the things that Mr. Susso often does. Ms. Felter’s belief in treating her students with respect and dignity allowed Alhassan to embrace his importance as an individual. Alhassan relates one of his favorite quotes to his favorite teacher “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants, well, my giant was Ms. Felter.”
In 2008, Alhassan and his family fought to bring his sister, Binta, to the United States after she had contracted Hepatitis B, to properly treat her disease. Two conditions needed to be met in order for Binta to receive a visa to travel to the United States. First, a doctor and a hospital would need to be pre-arranged for Binta’s treatment upon her arrival in America. Secondly, proof of $25,000 for Binta’s treatment would need to be raised and presented to the American embassy in Gambia. Alhassan was able to arrange both requirements. Bronx Lebanon Hospital would host Binta and Dr. Umana (another Gambian in Alhassan’s journey) would treat her. The money for Binta’s treatment was lent to Alhassan by his boss Mark, the owner of the Stop and Shop where he bagged groceries at. After a seemingly well interview, Binta returned home enthusiastic about the impending visa she would be granted, but she never received the visa and to this day Alhassan doesn’t know why. “We provided everything that they had asked for and Dr. Umana even had a connection with the visa counselor. But they denied it.” says Alhassan.
After an ensuing four month legal battle Alhassan received a phone call, while eating a slice of pizza, that changed his life forever. On November 21, 2008 at 7:33 pm (around 1:00 am in Gambia), Alhassan’s father phoned him and simply stated “Your sister is gone.” Alhassan fainted. When he woke and got his bearings Alhassan called his grandmother, Aminata, who lived in Gambia who consoled him and tried to make him feel better. “You’ve done everything that you could for your sister,” said Aminata “now it’s time to move on.” But three hours later Alhassan received another phone call, once again it was his father, this time he said “Your grandmother is gone.” Aminata Susso died of a heart attack. In the Muslim tradition of his people Alhassan flew to his homeland the following day, buried his sister at 10:00 am, and his grandmother at 3:00 pm. Today they rest side by side in Gambia.
The passing of Alhassan’s grandmother and sister are two of the events that have motivated him to help his students reach out and try to grasp the American dream, something that Binta was desperately trying to do. What gives Alhassan the greatest satisfaction as a teacher is the sight of his students on graduation day. “To see where they started, their daily progress, and where they are going brings me most joy.” says Alhassan. Whether it’s waking up early to attend Mr. Susso’s program or reading Victor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning in class, students are taught to never give up and to continue striving to obtain their dreams. Alhassan notes “Teens think their problems are cumbersome, but when they read about someone like Victor Frankl finding meaning in Auschwitz, they realize there is no problem they cannot solve.”
The foreseeable future looks bright for Alhassan and the students of Bronx International High. A trip to Massachusetts is being planned for the spring and Mr. Susso’s popularity has already attracted Department of Education officials to observe the Inspiring Teens’ Futures program for other schools. After all, the school’s graduation rate shot up from 31% to over 80% since Alhassan arrived at Bronx International High. But in the meantime, the 2018 New York State teacher of the year is able to help his students remember where they came from, who they are and focus on where they want to go. Day by day, during every 8:00 am zero period, a Griot in the South Bronx helps his students tell their own stories.
Although the summer season has ended, luckily, colder weather brings with it the winter edition of the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-Up at the New York Botanical Garden from 7–10:30 p.m. on select evenings. Patrons can experience this Bronx summer hit on a smaller (yet colder!) scale in the Leon Levy Visitor Center featuring a rotating seasonal selection of the market’s food favorites such as NextStopVegan, Empanology, and City Tamale.
The holiday pop-up coincides with Bar Car Nights at NYBG, a 21-and-over exclusive in which the garden grounds transforms into a wintry landscape and an after-dark viewing of the Holiday Train Show® as the evening highlight (an experience worth experiencing!). Throughout the garden, performers such as carolers and hula hoop dancers provide holiday entertainment along the various garden routes, adding to the night’s festive offerings. Fire pits are lit to warm the frigid, but the beauty of the evening in all its enchantment is warming enough. Below are select vendor highlights from my visit on November 17th 2018:
There are burgers and then there are BURGERS! This was definitely the latter!
The BX Burger Co. is a Bronx-based burger company aimed at “having The Bronx’s very own Burger company” intended to “contribute to its development by employing people that live here.” At the night market, patrons could select between their Caramelized Onion burger or Jalapeño and Cheese Infused burger. I ordered the caramelized onion burger and to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember eating it, let alone breathing while shoving my burger in my face!
Currently, BX Burger Co. can be found at pop up events around the Bronx as they move towards their long term goal to acquire a food truck and eventually into their own brick and mortar. To support their efforts, visit their fundraiser page on gofundme.com, but in the meantime, be sure to stop by their booth at the the market. And don’t forget to breathe!
Since undergrad, I have been a fan of all things vegan sweets. I mean, what could be more healthy for you than vegan carrot cake? It has CARROT IN THE NAME!!
Uptown Vegan Sweet and Treats was founded by Bronx native, Drea, who learned to bake from her grandmothers. According to Drea on her website, “If you ask her the secret ingredient to making her cakes and cookies sooo delicious, you'll get a one word response: Love.”...that’s cool, Drea, but if you told cyanide, I’m quite sure I still would have bought the four sweet potato cupcakes I purchased without hesitation.
If you were out and about during the Bronx Night Market during the summer, than I’m quite sure you would have remembered seeing Uptown Vegan with their pink table cloth, and a line winding as far back towards the DJ booth. I can’t predict what the lines may be for this winter season, but in any case, I highly recommend braving the elements to get your dose of sweet potato goodness.
Barbeque on a STICK
I’m kicking myself, even as I write about this: Barbeque on a Stick was the ONLY vendor I did not sample (if you misread above, I was busy CHOKING on caramelized onions and burger buns and drooling over vegan cupcakes. Cut me SOME slack!). Barbeque on a Stick is a homestyle Filipino barbeque catering company based in Queens, NY that prides themselves on preparing flavorful meals from fresh ingredients from local vendors: “We love to support our surrounding community by purchasing our ingredients from local vendors. Everything on the menu comes directly from the farm, to the table in front of you.”
Though not from the Bronx, the inclusion of Barbeque on a Stick rounded out the night’s menu options, a diverse palette of flavor for one to enjoy. As the line was long, I safely presume that the food was good, if one can use the length of a line as a measure of foodie goodness. Before the year is out, I will have their food (it is too late for 2018 resolutions?). But I charge you all to get in on what they’re serving!
As I wrote in my coverage for the Bronx Night Market this summer, the market doesn’t showcase all the diversity of food culture in the Bronx. To their credit, the space is tight, I can’t blame them. However, I encourage everyone to check the NYBG Box Car Night’s webpage for the vendor line-up throughout the remainder of the season. And come bundled up!
To learn more about Box Car Night’s at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, be sure to visit their website.
December 2018: 15, 21, 22, 28, & 29
January 2019: 5 & 12
“I’m vegan TONIGHT!” I declared after taking a bite of my vegan chimiburger, NextStopVegan’s popular dish, a spin on the Dominican style burger.
“I can get jiggy with it,” my colleague, Dondre agreed after his bite of approval.
I’ve toyed with the idea of being a vegan, but I will admit that my love affair with cheese is hard to break away from (especially goat cheese!). Apparently, for Blenlly, co-owner of this Bronx-based vegan meal prep/food delivery service, I’m not the only one with “cheese deep” excuses to not fully commit. When new clients attempt to justify why they’re signing up, Blenlly quickly reminds them that this is not a transition process as much as the first step towards many health decisions.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t commit 100%! It’s okay! We’re not trying to transition you fully.’ But we do appreciate the steps [one] takes towards that, or, at least to be more conscious when [they] go out. A lot of times we hear people say, ‘Hey, thank you so much for this experience. I’m a lot more conscious when I go out’, or, ‘I realize when I cook at home, I’m a lot more creative.’ I don’t mind it because we give them a new perspective on food and veganism.”
Unlike most ideas to start a restaurant or food business, NextStopVegan wasn’t born inside of a kitchen, at least one that was stateside. Thousands of miles away from the Bronx in South Korea, the beginnings of NextStopVegan started with Blenlly, who was an English teacher at the time, wanting to share vegan versions of Dominican style cuisine with her fellow colleagues and expats. At potlucks and food gatherings, Blenlly’s vegan appetizers and desserts were a total hit, being that Latin cuisine was such a rarity, to the point where her first client begged her to cook all of their meals for them until Blenlly left.
“The New Yorker in me was like, yeah, I can hustle here,” Blenlly laughed.
Towards the end of her tenure in South Korea, Blenlly had three clients, but the idea of starting a business back home didn’t fully stick until Ana, her sister, challenged her to meal prep and cook her meals. At the time, Ana was experiencing health issues and complications which Blenlly strongly believed a plant based diet would help alleviate. After being “hired” by her sister, Blenlly found new clients in two of her other aunts.
The stateside beginnings of NextStopVegan, Blenlly recalled, were rather exhausting. “I started shopping, and spending my money on groceries and would come back to my mom’s house to cook and prep.” Her mother was anything but convinced, seeing Blenlly’s latest endeavor as another “phase she’ll find herself out of.” She started cooking for her sister and her aunts at 1pm on a Saturday and was up until 6am the next morning still cooking her commissioned 15 meals. Yet, in seeing her daughter being committed and passionate about this, Blenlly’s mother was the first employee recruited to NextStopVegan. Ana later came on as co-owner to oversee the cooking, who jokingly judged Blenlly’s cooking as “bland” and “basic.”
“Of course when you’re a Domincan/Latino, you want to add the garlic and you want to add the sofrito, and the peppers, and I’m like, ‘This is too much work!’ I don’t like preparing it. So I used to be like, ‘garlic salt, garlic powder, powder everything’”, Blenlly laughed, until one day her mother snapped: “No no no! You need the fresh things! You need to peel the garlic! Chop it up! And smash it!”
Investing more into the prepping process for her prepped meals, Blenlly and NextStopVegan found further success after featuring their vegan sancocho on their Instagram account, which later brought in their first non-family client. “When you have a stranger sign up and they are willing to pay, you’re officially a business,” Blenlly teased.
The success of NextStopVegan not only lies in the amazing food that comes out of their kitchen, the location of a former Chinese restaurant which currently operates as their prep space, but the philosophy and business logic of starting as a meal prep/delivery service. Blenlly, to her and her team’s credit, are also helping to redefine the food business as a whole in the Bronx. When asked about the decision to start a meal prep business over a stand alone restaurant, Blenlly quickly noted that the importance to a successful business is in presenting opportunities for customers, new and old, to get to know you and become loyal to you, particularly when you are challenging the notion of “healthy food” or vegan food “with a Dominican twist”, Blenlly states.
“We get to be very creative without having to put in the additional labor of running a restaurant, in addition to having customers commit to us. If someone comes and takes out food, they’ll try it one day, they’ll eat it for lunch, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, it was good. Done.’ But if you have a 10-meal, or a 5-meal package, you’re committing to that experience for a whole week. So you’re eating one, two, three, four, five dishes and that can elevate your experience to the commitment level, where you’re like, ‘Wow, that was good.’ ‘This was mad good!’ ‘Oh my God, this is just everything!’ We wanted people to go on this journey with us, to commit, and if they are willing to not do it again, that’s okay, but at least they understand that this is possible. Vegan food is possible. They’re not just having a one time experience.”
“If you go to a restaurant and you have a good time, that’s great, but how often do you go back? Maybe every other month, depending on your finances and your commitment level, your experience with the waiters or waitresses. If they’re bad, then the service is bad, then the food is bad, and in your mind the experience is bad. And all of [this] can deteriorate from the vegan or plant based goal. So if [customers] can commit to this, they can commit to a longer, [healthier], long-term experience.”
NextStopVegan recently celebrated their one year anniversary. The summer brought in much success for the team as they were a part of the BronxNightMarket since the beginning, exposing the borough to not only delicious vegan Dominican style food, but to a philosophy that healthy living and eating right doesn’t have to come at a sacrifice. Their appreciation towards their clients is solid, as they frequently repost client stories on their Instagram, allowing followers to relive or capture the experience of receiving and unpackaging one’s meals for the week.
The future success for NextStopVegan will be an exciting thing to witness as Blenlly finds herself already with like minded company. “We are blessed to call this [location] our home. We’ve been impressed by how many people are vegan or vegetarian, or they know about it or they care about it. The least person you think, is already mindful. Every time I come out here or when people walk in, the person walking in, I’m like, ‘You’re vegan? Really? REALLY!? OMG GIVE ME A HUG!”
Blenlly believes NextStopVegan can be a space for many to identify and find their own healthy voice, particularly people of color who choose this lifestyle which is frequently associated with access to healthy food resources not predominantly made available in low income neighborhoods. “Our people are so beautiful, so knowledgeable. I want to [eventually] open this space for communication, one-on-ones, and intimate conversation.”
To learn more about NextStopVegan, be sure to follow them on Instagram: @NextStopVegan.
To learn more about their meal prep/food delivery service, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org