A Changing Greenpoint

Sisters Agata (from left) and Paulina, who run Happy Zoe Vegan Bakery in Greenpoint with their mother Aleksandra, have been vegan for the past 20 years. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

Greenpoint, the legendary Polish-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, has been undergoing gentrification in recent years. Nevertheless, many New Yorkers of Polish origin still call Greenpoint home and run their businesses there, many of which offer traditional Polish food and other products. They enjoy a good reputation and boast a solid base of loyal customers.

More and more often, however, Polish business owners tailor their offerings to the needs and likes of the newcomers. At the same time the names of their businesses hardly indicate the ethnic roots of their owners, so that they are more universal and appealing to all Greenpoint residents.

Such is the case with Happy Zoe Vegan Bakery located at 102 B Nassau Ave. and run by sisters Paulina and Agata, and their mother Aleksandra. Through the bakery, the ladies realize their mission to educate people about how milk, eggs and other animal products traditionally used in baking can easily be replaced by plant products which are healthier and easier to digest.

“We have been cooking vegan food for over 20 years. Our friends would ask us to bake vegan cakes for them and finally suggested we should open a vegan bakery,” said Paulina. Finding an affordable spot in a good location in New York wasn’t easy. Ultimately, they decided on Greenpoint because of the young, health-conscious residents and because of the Polish character of the neighborhood that makes them feel like home there.

Happy Zoe Vegan Bakery opened on Dec. 22, 2018 and is attracting more and more Greenpointers. Among the most popular products offered by the bakery are donuts, apple pie, cheesecake, cupcakes, cakes, muffins and other baked goods, including gluten-free ones. Their patrons are mostly Americans who come by their whole families. “We have a number of regular customers who stop by every day,” says Paulina. “Poles come here as well, but they are still a bit skeptical about plant-based cooking. The younger generation of Polish immigrants, however, is very open to vegan food,” says one of the owners.

The emergence of places like Happy Zoe Vegan Bakery does not mean the demise of old traditional establishments. Owned and operated since 2007 by Krystyna Godawa, Park Deli at 209 Nassau Ave. proves that Polish comfort food is still in high demand in the gentrifying Greenpoint and not only Poles are keen on it.

Her business, which offers catering and Polish food to take out, among others, was, however, on the verge of closing down two years ago. Godawa battled with the landlord to have the lease extended at a price she could afford. At first the landlord, Hildegarda Daempfle, proposed a steep increase in rent, then said she had other plans for the venue and gave Godawa a month to move out.

Local residents and patrons, especially employees and actors from Broadway Stages who had fallen for the Polish comfort food, tried to help in negotiations with the landlord as they did not want to see their favorite deli gone.

The court later decided that Godawa could stay at 209 Nassau Ave. till she could find an alternative location for her deli. Ultimately the landlord gave up pushing Park Deli out of the premises and signed a 10-year lease with the store owner. “The fight was very worth it,” says Godawa, promising to continue serving her loyal customer base.

Not all Polish business owners from Greenpoint have been so lucky, however. Despite popularity and renown, gone from the map of Greenpoint are Green Farms Supermarket known as “U Chlopakow” which was located at 918 Manhattan Ave. It closed down in October last year after 42 years in operation. The store first opened in 1977 and had been run by two brothers, Antoni and Marian Mikolajczyk. After the death of Marian, the family decided to close down the business and sell the building.

The closure took the loyal customers by surprise, some of whom used to come all the way from other boroughs to shop at the supermarket.

Customers also miss popular and widely-liked deli Mazur Meat Market at 922 Manhattan Ave., which suspended its operations at the end of 2018. However, Nowy Dziennik reports that Mazur, which had served the Greenpoint community since the ’80s will be coming back after a remodeling and restructuring.

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