When Ali Ahmed and Akram Nassir saw the “For Rent” sign at 151 Atlantic Avenue, they immediately went in and left a deposit. They had no idea what they wanted to put in the space, formerly Beasts and Bottles, but knew that they had to have it.
The Nassir family has a long restaurant history in the neighborhood, at one point owning over seven restaurants in the area.
“We’re talking like the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. That’s when my dad opened Yemen Cafe, in 1986, so currently we have that location, we have the location on 5th Avenue and we’re working on another location in the Bronx,” Nassir said. “It’s amazing. Ali and I just saw this [space] and we were like ‘we can’t let this go’.”
Ali Ahmed and Ana Cabrera, another partner in the new restaurant, in addition to being close friends of Nassir’s, own Brain Food in Bed-Stuy.
The kismet continued when someone happened to run into Ahmed’s car.
“Ali’s car got hit and the person left a note, which is unheard of in Brooklyn. But, luckily, Dave [Morse] was a gentleman and he did leave a note. We discovered that Dave had a bookstore. It occurred to Ali ‘I have some space’,” Cabrera said.
Morse and his business partner, Matt D’Angelo, own the Better Read Than Dead bookstore in Bushwick and have been selling used books for ten years.
“I like to tell people that hitting that BMW was the best decision I ever made,” Morse said.
The space features walls and rows of used books and records, all carefully chosen and curated. It’s both bright and cozy, with wooden floors and rugs. Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling, and one of the walls is covered with greenery. Of course, bookshelves are plentiful. Morse says there are about 4,000 books and 1,500 records total. He and D’Angelo collect pieces from all over the tri-state area, and have been curating the used books they sell for the last decade.
Guests of A Novel Kitchen are more than welcome to read while they eat, Morse says, even if they don’t necessarily end up purchasing everything.
“As long as they’re not spilling ketchup on pages,” Morse laughed. “It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the book, and if you want to take it home, you can pay for it at the register.” The staff are all readers, Morse says, and each has their own interests and relationship with the books.
A Novel Kitchen also operates as a full-service restaurant and coffee bar. On the menu are classic, family-friendly dishes like buttermilk pancakes, cheeseburgers, and truffle mac and cheese. Morse and D’Angelo switch and curate the book selection every week, ensuring that new options are always available.
“I always knew this location. I’ve been looking at it for the past 15 years and I just loved it. There were so many different restaurants that were there and they just never made it. As soon as the pandemic came, it’s a loss, but other people’s loss is somebody else’s gain,” Nassir said.
“COVID just gave the opportunity to get into a lot of neighborhoods that were untouchable before because there were never any vacancies,” Ahmed added.
Morse and D’Angelo jumped at the chance as well.
“Being a part of that community, especially with Akram, who’s been on the block for his entire life, was just an exciting opportunity. It’s New York City, everybody wants to read, so being able to be the used bookstore in any neighborhood is fantastic. Downtown Brooklyn is one [neighborhood] we love and never thought we’d be able to be a part of,” Morse said.
All involved in A Novel Kitchen place community at the top of their priority list. When the pandemic is more under control and restrictions are lifted further, they hope to host poetry slams, comedy shows, readings, and other events, and offer what wall space they have to local artists.
“We’re trying to be as inclusive as possible with the neighborhood so it’s a win-win for everyone,” Ahmed said.
They’re also eager to partner with other neighborhood businesses, even building their outdoor space in collaboration with Brado, their next-door neighbor, an Italian restaurant. Guests can order from both of the spots while sitting in the over 50-foot long area.
So far, the neighborhood has welcomed them with open arms, they say.
“They love it, they love how casual it is, they love how low our prices are. This woman comes in with four of her kids, grabs books, sits down, eats, reads the books, and then purchases all the books after. I was just like ‘wow, I think we found our niche,’” Ahmed said.
A Novel Kitchen is located at 151 Atlantic Avenue, between Clinton and Henry streets. They are open from 8:00 am-7:30 pm Monday-Thursday, and 8:00 am-9:30 pm Friday-Sunday.