Sunkofa: A fresh take on taste
Story and photos by Toni-Ann Martin
Sunkofa, a local gift shop in the Claremont Village area of the Bronx, is known for its wide selection of cultural products.
But this past Jan. 21, the storeowners welcomed customers to check out the store’s latest unique offering—a newly added café and juice bar.
That it was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day made for an even more meaningful celebration.
Residents gathered to celebrate the civil rights hero’s life and legacy with various components planned in advance by the store’s owners.
Early in the day, there were documentaries to watch and speeches to listen to from Dr. King. The floor was also opened to local talent for tributes, pointing up how the café will serve as an event space for entertainment.
“When I first came here I noticed the community was being developed, but many of the services that people wanted did not exist here, so most people had to go outside of the community for them,” said Michael Alfred, co-owner of Sunkofa.
For the past three years, the gift shop has successfully provided greeting cards, unique jewelry, art and decorative accessories from South America, Africa, China, Israel and more.
Alfred, 49, recognized the success of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, but thought they had no cultural offering that people could relate to.
Opening the café, explained owners, gives the neighborhood an affordable place to socialize in the Bronx with a cultural influence and health-conscious twist.
The café offers organic coffees and teas, pastries and cakes, health products, and fresh-pressed juice.
While they have not established a set menu yet, the event on Monday served as a way to gauge what customers liked and what they will serve in the future.
Damian “Conscious” Chase, 26, stood behind the bar blending fruit-and-vegetable combos for customers to sample.
Chase makes smoothies, shakes, and “life” juices based on people’s energy, their needs, and what they’re looking to change, he said.
Sunkofa will offer protein shakes, drinks for ailments such as anemia and high blood pressure, and juices for detoxing.
Chase said he focuses on combining fruits and vegetables to make beverages that are healthy but also taste good.
“The food is raw. If it’s raw, it maintains most of its nutrients. The closer to raw that we consume food is the better it is for your body,” he said.
A mix of blueberry, banana, almonds, pumpkin seeds and almond milk, sweetened with dates and a hint of cinnamon, was a favorite among the crowd.
Passerby stopped and stared on the corner of 174th Street and Southern Boulevard as they noticed the singers performing in the café.
“They kept passing by saying, ‘It’s a café? It looks so nice. We have this in our neighborhood?’” Shawn Bean said.
Shawn, 43, is one of four owners of Sunkofa, which is run by two couples.
“This is our husbands’ dream. This is something Lori and I are supporters of, and this is a business we have grown to love because of them,” she said.
Shawn’s husband Kevin Bean, 50, said they wanted to create a dynamic where they could have a forum to talk about health, provide healthy products and also foster talent in the area.
It was important for him and his co-owners, he explained, to cultivate the creativity in the Bronx and provide talent with a place to go,
When they opened the gift shop three years ago, they received great support from the community.
And even a bit of disbelief.
“Like, ‘Wow, is this store really in our neighborhood or is Spike Lee shooting a movie and they’re going to leave?’” said Bean of the response they’d received from residents.
Bronx native Charissa Griffin, 51, said a lot of people travel for any type of entertainment, relaxation, and good food because they feel there is nowhere local to sit down, to have a business meeting or just to relax.
Sunkofa is filling the void, she said.
Marlon Gaskin, 35, one of the managers at Sunkofa, is especially grateful that the community has embraced their vision. As he described it, they started with a bunch of rubble and turned it into a fully decorated café.
The café has already brought together people from different walks of life as volunteers contributed monetarily, brought samples, or helped to clean and organize the space, he said.
“This belongs to all of us,” said Gaskin. “It’s about time we have something like this.”
1789 Southern Boulevard
(At Boston Road and 174th Street)
Bronx, NY 10460