New York-style bodega comes to Grand Rapids hoping to serve as a center for community and food

Local husband and wife Saaquan and Myleka Jefferson have opened Brooklyn Bodega Bagel & Deli in hopes of creating an iconic New York-style bodega in downtown Grand Rapids. The new establishment and gathering place is located at 10 Jefferson Ave. SE, which formerly housed Mannie’s Pizza. 

“I grew up going to the bodegas,” says Saaquan. “And being here these last few years, I would crave some of the foods that I grew up on.”

Originally from the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, Saaquan Jefferson moved to Grand Rapids about five years ago. His wife is from the Grand Rapids area. 

“This whole concept or theme that we're doing over here is pretty much like a way of life for us back home,” he says. “On the east coast in general, but, you know, specifically in Brooklyn.” 

The bodega — Spanish for grocery store or storeroom — is a staple on most corners and neighborhoods across New York and Brooklyn. Bodegas serves as a place to get your morning coffee and bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, grab cigarettes or laundry detergent and come back later in the day for a pint of ice cream or a toothbrush. They were popularized by immigrants, many Puerto Rican, who came to New York after World War II – hence the name bodega. Over time, the bodega has become more than a convenience store, serving as the center of a community. 

“When you come into a bodega nine times out of 10 in New York or Brooklyn, you're interacting with the owner of that store,” says Saaquan. “They pretty much become staples in that community.” 

When Saaquan saw that the space on Jefferson Street was available, he knew that it would be a great location to house his vision. This was mid-pandemic, but he knew he wanted to take the risk on this venture. He began building a relationship with the Boar’s Head representative here in Michigan and locating the best breads to create the New York foods he missed the most. 

Saaquan and his wife officially opened the doors to Brooklyn Bodega Bagel & Deli on January 25. While many bodegas in New York offer more than food, from over the counter medicine to cat food, they decided they preferred  to focus primarily on the made-to-order food. 

Brooklyn Bodega’s menu includes coffees, fresh sandwiches and subs — the New York equivalent of a hero — bagels and cream cheeses and build your own salads. They even sell Boar’s Head meats and cheeses by the pound. Next month they’ll be offering Jamaican beef patties, another popular bodega classic.

“A bodega is an everyday thing for us in New York,” adds Saaquan, who says many make a stop at the neighborhood bodega multiple times a day, whether it be for a meal or just a piece of candy. 

“You might stop in a bodega two or three times in a day and I wanted to take that same approach with what we're doing. That's why our menu is so versatile,” he says. 

So far, the reception has been positive. The Jefferson’s are optimistic the community support will continue. “It’s been overwhelming. We’ve been having lines, pretty much, outside the door.”

Photos courtesy of Brooklyn Bodega Bagel & Deli
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