Last week, our list of black-owned coffeeshops generated an enormous reader response. Even Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams got in on the action launching a
#BLKCoffeeInBK Tour, pledging to visit all of the shops mentioned, shining a light on local businesses.
This is how we met Cynthia Gordy and Glenn Alan – two Brooklyn residents who had launched their own project to celebrate and document the black-owned businesses of Brooklyn. They’d been kicking the idea around since last summer, at least, but about eight weeks ago, Cynthia and Glenn launched Black Owned Brooklyn, an Instagram (and website) dedicated to curating and cataloging exemplary black-owned businesses throughout the borough.
We have a thing for family restaurants, especially those quiet, inconspicuous places where *everything* is dumb good. It’s why we have so much space in our hearts for Jemz. 🇯🇲 Owned by sisters Christine Thompson (left) and Margereve Campbell, this Jamaican spot puts out fresh, lovingly spiced dishes, from a starchy soup made from boiled provisions to crackly-skinned jerk chicken with a creeping-but-very-real Scotch bonnet heat. As Thompson says: “If you’re looking for a home-cooked meal, this is the place to be.” Accurate. #blackownedbrooklyn #blackownedcrownheights
Calling the project “love letters to Brooklyn’s people, places and products,” the two spend a few hours each Saturday seeking out new black-owned businesses to highlight, from handmade clothes to carry-out food, swanky bars to vegan cafés.
Gordy, 36, grew up in Philly but has spent the last three years living in Bed-Stuy, by way of Harlem and D.C. Alan grew up in the Bronx, then found himself living in Harlem once he was on his own. A few years back, all his uptown friends seemed to migrate to Brooklyn, so he made his way across the East River as well, and has spent the last couple years in Crown Heights.
Surprisingly, given its polish and professionalism, Black Owned Brooklyn is a side project for the very busy Gordy and Alan. Wanting to not only to catalog and celebrate the businesses they love, they were also looking for a creative outlet outside of their nine-to-five work. Alan, a project manager in the fashion industry, does the excellent photography for the posts, while Gordy, a former journalist who works in marketing, writes the copy and tells the stories for each place they feature.
Many of the posts so far have been focused around Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, which makes sense—it’s where the creators live and it’s where they know. But as the following of their Instagram grows, they’re excited to branch out to new neighborhoods and types of businesses.
Black-Owned Brooklyn Massive! Thank you for rocking with us these past few weeks — for the likes, the shares, the quality tips and well wishes. We’re grateful for your support. To celebrate the 1,000+ of you already following along, last night we raised a toast at one of Brooklyn’s finest dives, Tip-Top Bar & Grill. Walter “Junior” Alston opened Tip-Top in the early ‘50s, originally as a pool hall, and it has stayed in the Alston family ever since. See our previous post to learn more about this Bed-Stuy classic. #blackownedbrooklyn
Moving between restaurants and retail, plant-shops and bars, the two are conscious to keep a mix of everyday and elevated, affordable and splashy, making sure they appeal to all types of Brooklynites. One of their first posts was about Jemz, a “quiet, inconspicuous” spot they knew and loved.
As Brooklyn communities, and especially communities of color, see a major influx of new residents, supporting local businesses is a key part of keeping some sense of community, of culture.
“When I say residents, I don’t just mean black residents,” Gordy stresses. The guide is for everyone, especially those increasingly concerned about how and where they spend their money, who they support.
“I think that is what’s most important: conscious consumption,” says Alan. “Yes, it’s Black Owned Brooklyn, but it’s local—it’s about the neighborhood.”
Not only do consumers want to support local business, the two realized, they also want to know the stories behind them. As each set of three Instagram posts for the businesses go up early in the morning, Gordy and Alan find that those focusing on the story of the business and its owners—not just the food or products—attract the most audience engagement.
“We thought of it more as a service at first,” says Alan, “But it morphed into storytelling.”
While they’d originally hoped that they’d attract 1,000 followers to Black Owned Brooklyn by the end of their first year, just eight weeks after they launched, they’d broken 2,000.
What’s next? Well, first there’s a wedding coming up for Cynthia next month, which is taking up just a bit of their focus (Glenn is helping the couple plan for the big day, naturally). But after that, it really looks like the sky’s the limit.
The two hope to expand the storytelling scope of their projects, hopefully by adding a video component, expanding their interviews with business owners. They’ve already had followers reach out directly to say they’d like to contribute and get involved. Of course, they’ve found it incredibly encouraging and flattering, they said.
Gordy and Alan also want to involve their audience in talking about the issues inherent in covering local, black-owned businesses in a changing Brooklyn. Without even mentioning issues of gentrification, class, money and mobility explicitly, they’re always there. The two want to create “an intentional space for conversation” to expand on the discussion that’s already finding its way into the Instagram comments.
No matter where they take things, it’s not likely they’ll run out of material anytime soon. Each business owner they interview has another recommendation to make, and readers are shouting out their favorite spots as well.
“People were hungry for this,” said Gordy, who is happy to learn more about the borough she and Alan call home. It’s made them more intentional, more aware of their neighborhoods, they said, as they go through their days and interact with local businesses.
“It’s not a well that ever runs dry,” said Gordy.