As you probably noticed, each week Epicenter-NYC highlights a different small business in New York City (we also made this BIPOC-centered gift guide for the holidays). This year, we’re dedicating our GOATED list to them (read our 2021 GOATED list, dedicated to Covid-19 heroes, here). It’s not easy to own a small business in New York City, especially over the last two years. Yet many of these small businesses are a product of the pandemic or have managed to thrive despite the setbacks they faced. Each of these businesses has shaped New York for the better and uplifted the communities of color they represent. Our 2022 GOATED list is as follows:
Yu and Me Books
Lucy Yu is a chemical engineer turned bookstore owner of Yu and Me Books, the first Asian-American female-run bookstore in New York City. The store has become a safe space for Asian New Yorkers and other communities of color who don’t often see themselves represented on bookstore shelves. Since you last heard from them, Yu and Me Books has become more than a bookstore, it’s a community space.
In March, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and femmes lined up to get free pepper spray and personal safety devices. The bookstore has also hosted pop-up events such as an Asian American Writers workshop, which held an event in memory of the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings and several book signings. The store celebrated its one-year anniversary on Dec. 11.
While Yu hopes to continue growing her business and uplifting other women of color in 2023, she is also looking forward to relaxing.
“[In 2023 I am looking forward to] building out sustainable and realistic rest,” she says. “I’m also excited to build a larger network of other women of color business owners.”
Yu’s three takeaways from her first year as a small biz owner?
“Have courage, work hard and always be ready to adjust.”
At BunNan, plantains are a love language. The restaurant was launched by Nadege Fleurimond, who was born in Haiti and raised in Brooklyn, as an effort to highlight and inform people about her country’s food. At BunNan, sandwiches like the griot, which features marinated pork shoulder, caramelized onions, cabbage slaw and a special sauce, are held together by plantains instead of bread. The storefront opened only this year in July at the Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace, but it is already becoming a popular foodie spot. Fleurimond is happy she took the risk to launch BunNan, through the pandemic.
“In business and in life, when given the opportunity, always shoot your shot. You may not have all the answers. Try anyways. You never know, you may end up making it. And even if you don’t make it, the lessons you learn in the process will be the very lessons that help you make it down the line. So feel the fear and do it anyway,” she says.
BunNan would not have been made possible without Fleurimond’s catering business, Fleurimond Catering, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023. She hopes BunNan has the same longevity.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the seeds we planted for BunNan in 2022 come to fruition. We wanted to rally a community of plantain lovers around our delicious Haitian and Caribbean inspired plantain eats, and we are doing that. We look forward to growing,” she says.
Visit BunNan at the Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace food hall located at 21-23 Caton Ave. in Brooklyn. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Abou Sow opened Prince Abou’s Butchery earlier this summer in August 2022 — it’s one of the rare Black-owned butcher shops in New York City. The butchery is a whole animal butcher shop, meaning it offers every cut you can imagine — a more sustainable way of butchering. Since you last heard from Sow, the butchery has added new items to the menu, like lamb bacon, which will hit shelves today.
“We’ve been curing and smoking our lamb bellies, slicing them and turning them into bacon,” he says. “We haven’t begun selling it yet, but it’s already become our most sought-after product, which is crazy.”
It’s only been a few months since the butchery opened, but Sow has since introduced lamb and beef butchery classes where customers learned how to break down the entire animal and went home with select cuts.
Sow is grateful to have learned so much this year as a small business owner.
“I’ve learned multiple lessons combined into one big experience. It’s the daily lessons that I learn here at the store all combined into one large experience that I’m going through,” he says.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2023. As you may remember, Sow wanted the butchery to be more than a place that sells meat. Next year merchandise like hoodies, tote bags and hats will be available for purchase.
While holiday orders are sold out, you can still pop into Prince Abou’s Butchery for last-minute holiday items. The shop is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 32-88 Steinway St. in Queens. Stay updated by following its Instagram.
At Happy Cork, you’ll find the most extensive collection of wine and spirits from Black and minority-owned businesses in the country. Some bottles are a piece of Black history, for example, House of Brown is a second-label offspring of Brown Estate, Napa Valley’s first Black-owned and operated winery. A bottle from Happy Cork makes the perfect last-minute holiday gift.
Happy Cork opened shortly before the pandemic began and it has been a journey for owner Sunshine Foss.
“One of the biggest takeaways for me this year is that we have to keep moving. We are constantly trying to stay current and as innovative as possible. We are finally starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel coming out of a pandemic — which is still looming — and some people are just starting to venture out so they are looking for experiences above all,” she says.
Foss recently opened Happy Cork’s sister shop, Happy Buds, a CBD and wellness store.
“[In 2023 I’m looking forward to] discovering all of the new offerings the new year will bring. We’re seeing so many newcomers in the alcohol industry and have seen so much change in the short time we’ve been here,” she says. “I’m looking forward to seeing even more growth in the industry with more BIPOC producers, women-owned brands, etc. It’s such a beautiful thing to see.”
Happy Cork is located at 51 Buffalo Ave. in Brooklyn and is open Monday to Thursday from 12 to 9:30 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 12 to 10 p.m. Visit its website for more information.
Lilith NYC, created by Sarah Sukumaran, a self-proclaimed “sneakerhead,” is a love letter to New York City. After years of working in the sneaker industry, she realized that women’s shoes were often a cheaper version of men’s shoes — but not at Lilith. The shoes are not only comfortable but are representative of a part of Sukumaran’s identity. For example, a new shoe called “Purple Sunsets” is inspired by the pink and purple hues of tropical sunsets in Sri Lanka, Sukumaran’s home country.
“We just started taking in preorders in October. You can still preorder the shoe on our website that is going to be released in January. We also have other colorways that we haven’t teased yet, so I am super excited. We’ll have two colorways lined up for early 2023,” Sukumaran says. “And then we have a bunch more coming out for the rest of the year.”
Sukumaran recently learned an important lesson after shifting Lilith’s production from China to Europe.
“Sometimes you have to move slowly for things to come. [Shifting our production] was great in terms of hindsight. Being in Europe makes things a lot more flexible and the quality has been amazing. That’s the biggest lesson — you have to move slow for great results and a great product to come out,” she says.
Tacos and tortas are easy to locate in New York City, but Alejandro Sanchez and his sister-in-law, Marisol Garcia saw that there was a void in the Mexican dessert space. As such, they created Maya’s Snack Bar, where they feature the street vendor treats of Mexico City with a modern twist. Here you’ll find crazy desserts such as the sandia loca, half a watermelon topped with mango, strawberries, peanuts, Tajin seasoning and candies and chamoyadas, tangy, sweet and spicyMexican slushies.
“My biggest lesson from 2022 would be to fight every obstacle that comes along the way to success,” Sanchez says. “Don’t let anything stop you, not even the smallest obstacle. Keep fighting through.”
Sanchez is thinking big and is aiming to expand to three more locations in the tristate area next year — stay tuned for those openings!
Treat yourself to something sweet at one of Maya’s Snack Bar’s three locations: 83 Graham Ave. and 1601 Gates Ave. in Brooklyn and 95-11 35th Ave in Queens. Stay updated on Maya’s Snack Bar via Instagram.