Stand at the HUB – 3rd Avenue and E. 149th Street – and spin around. What do you see?
“Fast food, a 99 cents store, a furniture store, more fast food,” Darada David said.
But up Melrose Avenue, David has opened an alternative: PeaceLove Computer Internet Healthfood Music Café. The name is a mouthful, which is only appropriate. David, in her 30s, dishes up spicy salmon and shrimp, fresh fruit juice and smooth sweet potato pie.
PeaceLove Café exists because David, raised in Mott Haven, knows that Bronx residents want healthy and affordable food, and because David likes to have fun. The former fashion designer and musician not only bakes sweet potato pie from scratch, she sings, reads poetry and teaches computer skills at the petit café. David gobbles sweet potato pie, too.
“My mother and father used to take us downtown if we wanted something good to eat or if we wanted to see a show,” she said. “But this neighborhood deserves peace and love. Every neighborhood deserves peace and love: a spot to eat healthy and enjoy entertainment in a safe environment with Internet access.”
David attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Fashion Institute of Technology, City College and Parsons School of Design. She led the PeaceLove band; musician friends perform live jazz at PeaceLove Café on Friday and Saturday nights.
In 2008, when David decided to distill her talents into a café, naysayers emerged. Although she had superb credit, David couldn’t obtain a loan. She went to a handful of elected officials. No luck.
“The banks had no faith in the Bronx,” David said. “What I heard from the banks was, ‘You think those people want that?’ Yes, I do.”
David emptied her bank account, confident that Bronx residents would spend on a taste of “downtown” close to home. Funky cafés have succeeded in Greenpoint and Harlem, she pointed out.
PeaceLove Café is a converted clothes store, wrapped in wood panels and chalkboard menus. David played decorator. Her gold-flake tables give the eatery “a sense of stardom,” she laughed.
HUB resident Ebony Iglesias, 26, frequents the Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan. She visited PeaceLove Café for the first time on Thursday, October 29.
“It has an open vibe,” Iglesias said. “I appreciate that this is here.”
David’s patrons are Puerto Rican and Dominican, African American and Caucasian. She relies on word of mouth but a high percentage of patrons stumble into PeaceLove Café by accident. On October 29, a pair of teens discovered David’s poetry night.
“I encourage students to come in,” David said. “The entertainment ends at 11 p.m. – no alcohol. The idea is to have a good time and remember it.”
The only other sit-down restaurant on Melrose Avenue is McDonald’s, David joked. She teaches PeaceLove Café patrons that fast food is cheap because fast food is garbage. The most expensive item on David’s menu is $6. She helps patrons fill out job and apartment applications online, and charges less than Kinko’s.
“This is good for the neighborhood,” HUB resident Alan Hernandez, 35, said. “Calm amongst the nitty gritty.”
PeaceLove Café has struggled here and there but David has plans to expand.
“I had a big fight to open,” David said. “But when someone comes in and thanks me, I feel happy.”
Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org