What do you do when an iconic New York food is nowhere to be found in Harlem? For Andrew Martinez, owner of Bo’s Bagels, the answer is to make them yourself. After being in the hospital for a few weeks with an intense bagel craving, he returned home and began experimenting. Before he knew it, he was popping out amazing bagels that his friends were devouring. He then began making them for parties and selling them at the farmer's markets. When there was a line down the block after only a few days, Andrew knew that it was time to open up his own brick and mortar shop.
Having established a presence in the neighborhood by constantly selling out of bagels at the farm stands and catering breakfast for corporations, Andrew had a reputation for making incredible food. “It was always about the bagels,” he said. “[It was] not how we necessarily planned to get started, but once it took off that became our thing.”
Andrew shares credit with his wife, Ashley Dikos, for their success. “I could not have done any of this without her. We are both equally responsible for where we are today.” The pair met while working at a restaurant. Over the years, Andrew had managed many eateries. “She was not in the food business at all — I roped her into it.” Ashley left her career behind and helped him start Bo’s. “Despite having never managed a restaurant, she is probably the best manager I’ve ever had.”
One of their most popular bagels is the za’tar. Andrew gets it straight from a farm in Lebanon, thanks to his sister-in-law. It is shipped a couple of times a year, and according to Andrew, no place makes za’tar better than Lebanon.
"If you asked me five years ago if I wanted to be in the bagel business, I would have said 'nope.' But wow, has it changed our lives!" he added. "The people in Harlem kept saying that they knew we needed this, but no one bothered to do it, so I did."
Andrew grew up in New York City and prides himself on the community environment in his bagel shop. The first thing to draw the Manhattan Sideways team's attention was a huge bagel hanging on two strings outside. The interior lighting is warm and inviting. The aisle leading from the door to the register is spacious, unlike other bagel chains, giving enough room for children to roam around and for a stroller to comfortably fit. The seating comprises metal tables with tall chairs, neatly tucked away on one side of the shop. On the walls hang artwork by local artists that are available for purchase.
This inviting space has allowed Andrew to establish a relationship with the Harlem community. “We know everyone now — we are watching babies be born and turn into toddlers, so we decided to make mini bagels for them,” he said. “We’re so busy on weekends sometimes we can’t handle the amount of people that come in.” But they do, and they do it well.
Though it took a few years, the shop has become a household name in the community. Andrew’s new focus is expanding the brand and hoping that other New Yorkers will learn about him and his scrumptious bagels.
My first encounter with Amy Ruth's, a Southern style restaurant in the finest tradition, was during a walk while documenting every place on 116th. The street is enormous, with many delis, convenience stores, hair salons and barber shops, but tucked between these are some marvelous hidden gems. Amy Ruth's is certainly one of them, although, "hidden" is debatable given that the restaurant usually has a line out the door. Once inside, I discovered that the space is endless. There are some smaller nooks, an upstairs area that is open on the weekends, and then a large catering hall for private events. The second time I visited Amy Ruth's, late on a Saturday morning, I brought my husband and friends, as I needed them to enjoy the same experience that I'd had. I loved every aspect of this restaurant. From the star-shaped paper lanterns hanging on the ceiling to the murals portraying well known African American figures — including President Obama, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Serena and Venus Williams — to the variety of ages and cultures sitting at the tables, and, of course, to the excellent Southern cuisine, the restaurant offers a memorable dining spot for everyone. The opening of Amy Ruth's in 1998 was inspired by Carl Redding's time spent down south visiting his grandmother during the summer months. He chose to stand by her side day in and day out as she prepared meal after meal for her adoring family. Years later, he decided to pay tribute to this wonderful woman by opening up his own restaurant and naming it after his beloved grandmother. This warm family feeling is transmitted to guests as soon as they arrive. Waiting to enter, we began speaking with some of the patrons who were raving about the food. I learned that they queue up almost every weekend for the chicken and waffles — and every other waffle combination imaginable. Needless to say, our meal also consisted primarily of waffles, most of us opting for the variety of fruit toppings, and it was perfect.
Crepe Master opened in November 2017. After a trip to Japan, owner Fumi wanted to bring the uniqueness of the country's crepes to Harlem. Unlike French crepes, the Japanese version is traditionally served in a cone — and a classic street food dish in populous cities throughout the country. Top recommendations include Chocobana, a sweet crepe comprised of banana, crushed chocolates, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, custard cream and almonds, the Suzette, a simple butter, sugar, lemon crepe, or any savory crepe with tofu.
Sojourner Coffee, located on W 116th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr and Frederick Douglass Boulevards in Harlem, is more than just a place to grab a fresh brew; it's a tale of a community coming together and a couple turning dreams into reality. When the previous coffee shop, Shuteye, closed its doors in September 2020, the neighborhood lost a cherished gathering spot. Locals Madison Ritter and James Miller live at 112th St and Frederick Douglass Boulevard and were regulars at Shuteye. Madison, a bartender, and James, a barista since 2008, felt the loss and saw an opportunity where others saw an end. The couple decided to use their savings — initially intended for an apartment — to invest in the community they loved and bring the coffee shop back to life. It wasn't just a business opportunity for them, but a way to fill a void that had been left by the pandemic. "It's been great. We love the neighborhood, we love our community. We have really wonderful regulars. One of 'em over there, Kendall's, one of our favorites, " Madison laughed with one of her mainstay customers. The team have got involved with local artists. When we were at the store, they were displaying the work of Emo Kiddo — and plan to continue with regular exhibitions. Barista Jacob Scherer said: "We've all got a bit of art in our background, so we feel it's important to use the space to contribute to that a little. "And what about the name? "A sojourner is a person who’s on a path, and they're taking a break on their journey, " said Madison.