Walking into Cafe Moca feels like you’ve been transported to a hip neighborhood in Brooklyn with ivy strung over brick walls and pink neon lights that Ridgewood locals may feel are out of touch with the rest of the area. However, despite what some may say, Colby Rodriguez, the owner of Cafe Moca on Seneca Avenue, wants people to know that their black-owned business is not trying to change the neighborhood.
Cafe Moca opened just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City, but Rodriguez and his family have been able to secure their standing in Ridgewood through the uncertain times.
It was difficult, Rodriguez said. But they built a client base that helped them keep their doors open as competing cafes in the area closed down.
“We were selling maybe one to two cups of coffee a day but things started to pick up and people started coming out more and more,” Rodriguez said.
Not only did the pandemic act as an obstacle, but as a Black man, Rodriguez said that he has had to work harder than most to get where he is.
“For us, we don’t have a stepping stone that everybody else has to get a running start,” Rodriguez said. “It takes more effort to make it where everybody else is starting from.”
While QNS sat down with Rodriguez, he pointed out the look of his cafe, saying that locals were quick to assume his business was part of the gentrification that has been pervasive across the city.
It’s no secret that New York City has changed. Low-income neighborhoods are inundated with new cocktail bars or pricey coffee shops that will inevitably hike property values and displace many long-time residents, most of whom are minorities. According to Urban Displacement, one-third of low-income households are at risk of displacement due to gentrification in the city. Unfortunately, Ridgewood and the surrounding areas are not unscathed in this issue.
“When we opened up Cafe Moca, a lot of people automatically thought that it was a gentrified business because of the style we chose,” Rodriguez said. “We would hear comments like, ‘Oh, that cafe’s not for us.’ But no, we are here for you.”
Cafe Moca purposefully made their prices affordable to accommodate everyone in the neighborhood and not just “one group of people,” as Rodriguez put it.
Rodriguez and his family have lived in Ridgewood for a little over a year after opening the business but previously lived in Buschwick. As someone who’s lived in the area for some time now, he said he’s personally seen the shift in demographics over the years.
“Some people are not able to afford to live in their neighborhoods, where they grew up, and are feeling like a part of their childhood or their life is slowly fading away,” Rodriguez said. “The neighborhoods are changing over, and you see the Black and Latino businesses shutting down and others businesses opening up and losing the representation of the people that still live in the neighborhood.”
But as a business owner, Rodriguez said he has to appreciate the opportunity these changes bring for small shops like his own. And after the initial skepticism from locals in Ridgewood, Rodriguez said he feels Cafe Moca has received a lot of support from the community.
“I started to see more support from people of color, slowly, but as a Black-owned business, I want people to understand that we are here and here for them,” Rodriguez said.
Cafe Moca is a small shop located at 487 Seneca Ave., offering an extensive menu with coffees, teas, sandwiches, bagels, breakfast bowls and more. For more information, visit their website, CafeMoca.nyc.