By Gabriele Holtermann
History was made in the Morrisania section of the Bronx on Feb. 20 with the grand opening of the borough’s first Black-owned bodega at 231 East 167th St.
Former record label executive Alize (Lenny) Jones opened ‘Black Bodega’ with his partners, brother Robert Forbes and childhood friend Rusheed Nash because they were tired of the economic disparities in their community which was hit hard by COVID-19.
While it was scary to open a new business during a pandemic, the Bronx natives knew that they had to give back to the neighborhood they grew up in and bring jobs to a community that has one of the highest unemployment rates in New York City.
Nash shared how they had talked about opening up a black-owned bodega in the past and admitted that it was a funny thought back then.
“But the pandemic wasn’t funny,” Nash said. “It really set people back; people had a hard time last year. So we wanted to do something in a serious way to try to alleviate some of that. We are definitely going to give jobs and help the community to get through it. We just want to give back the best way we can.”
The full-service deli and convenience store is open 24 hours and offers moderately priced food, including the Bronx Chopped Cheese, a sandwich with chopped hamburger meat and cheese — considered a bodega staple — salad bowls, smoothies, as well as household goods. The store has nine employees who are from the community and work eight-hour shifts.
Jules, who grew up in the neighborhood and works as a cashier at Black Bodega, shared that he was excited to have a full-time job, especially during the pandemic.
“A lot of people are out of jobs. A lot of people are suffering. I’m blessed,” he declared.
Councilmember Vanessa Gibson joined the celebration and expressed how important it was to have black-owned businesses that invest in their community to build economic wealth and growth, especially during this challenging time.
“We have something to celebrate in the midst of a storm. We can smile and say we have a new business. That’s the best investment we can ever make as a community and as a borough,” she said.
Alize (Lenny) Jones said that the bodega was something the community needed, especially since many businesses had to close because of the pandemic and so many people lost their jobs. “The motive at first wasn’t really the finances which is the driving inspiration of mostly every business. We said if we make a difference first, then the reward will come behind doing the right thing for good people,” he explained.
“We were born and raised here, so it feels good to bring something back to the community,” his brother Robert Forbes added.
Jones also shared that they have plans to branch out to other boroughs since bodegas are a staple of New York City culture and are opening a juice bar in the summer.
Grammy-award nominated rapper and Bronx native Peter Gunz, who stars on the reality TV show “Love and Hip Hop,” stopped by in support of his friends. He ordered a chopped cheese with lettuce, tomatoes, vinegar, and pepper and joked around with the chef to hurry up because he had a train to catch.
He said it was a historic moment for the Bronx to have its first Black-owned bodega, whose logo features a black cat as an homage to bodega cats all over the city.
“As kids, we didn’t have role models to go look at and say wow, they opened up a business, a store, a bodega. That was a far reach for a Black kid growing up in the Bronx. Now the kids get to see young black men open up a bodega. So hopefully, this is the start of many Black-owned bodegas,” Gunz said.