Really convenient eggs.eggs.
The bodega is so much more than a grocery store.
Jamil Araf’s family has owned a neighborhood bodega in the Bushwick neighborhood of New York City since the 1990s. Not much has changed since then.
That’s the point.
Bodegas are places of comfort and consistency, the first stop each morning after leaving your apartment, the last stop after work before getting home. New Yorkers rely on their bodegas for their morning coffees, their favorite snacks. The staff becomes family, the customers known by name.
So when Araf, who has been a vegan for about six years, pitched his dad, Dahan, who is rather decidedly not a vegan, on a new program called Plantega that brought plant-based foods to bodegas, Dahan was skeptical. The bodega didn’t offer many (if any) plant-based foods now, and the store was doing just fine. Why fix something that’s not broken?
“It was definitely a very long pitch,” Araf said, laughing. “It wasn’t easy. Typically, bodegas are very traditional. They’re not accustomed to change.”
So Araf gave it some time. He kept quiet about the idea for a few months and then asked his dad again. Let’s just try it, he said. We’re not taking anything away; we’re merely adding options for more people, he remembered telling his dad.
Dahan relented. Soon, Marinello's Gourmet Deli became one of 17 bodegas currently in New York City to offer a dedicated plant-based section, including updating its popular grill menu with JUST Egg sandwiches and breakfast burritos.
The response was quick and overwhelming for the store.
“JUST Egg was a fan favorite,” Araf said. “We’d get sold out of it the quickest.”
Quickly, word spread in the neighborhood about the healthy, affordable foods suddenly accessible at the bodega.
“We started to see a whole different crowd coming in,” Araf said.
In metropolises like New York City, it’s not always easy to find healthy foods, especially for low-income residents who live in food deserts. Without a car, most people are limited to a several-block radius from their apartments. If there’s no grocery store nearby, a bodega might be the only option.
“Bodegas are more than grocery stores in New York City,” Andrew Arrieta, formerly Plantega’s brand partner director, said. “They’re more like community centers.”
The need for more accessible, healthy, plant-based foods was obvious to Araf.
“People are really surprised to see a vegan sandwich in a deli,” he said. “When people think of veganism, they think of high-end restaurants, but they’re not really accessible.”
That has changed.
As of April 2022, the Plantega program, in partnership with JUST Egg, has sold more than 16,000 plant-based sandwiches and burritos at the bodegas. The breakfast burrito with JUST Egg and the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich with JUST Egg are the program’s most popular sandwiches.
In fact, at some bodegas, within only a couple weeks of their introduction, the plant-based options became the top-selling hot foods.
“Even we didn’t expect that,” Arrieta said.
As Plantega continues to expand to more Big Apple bodegas, more people will gain access to healthy, plant-based foods.
Araf’s dad, Dahan, is certainly a fan.
“My dad was a big fan of the plant-based chopped cheese,” he said, talking about the staple New York City bodega sandwich traditionally made with ground beef, onions and melted cheese in a roll. “He ordered it almost every day, and that was really cool to see.”