BY Amanda Mikelberg
It’s a new era for an old-world neighborhood.
Washington Heights is changing. New businesses are sprouting from Dominican roots that are catering to a diversified clientele — and introducing new objectives to entrepreneurs about surviving in New York City.
The largely Dominican district has, for better or for worse, resisted gentrification for decades and relied on its traditions in foods, hair salons, and sidewalk merchants that cater to the culture. Yet a few savvy businessmen with roots in the neighborhood are hoping to evolve the area, while also fighting the threats gentrification poses to a community’s identity.
The block on 177 Street between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue is a microcosm for the phenomenon. In the last year, unique businesses such as Kazza, an intimate and modish café by day and wine bar by night, and Pocion, a vegan restaurant and bar, opened their doors to a new era of commerce.
Francis Pereira-Billini, who opened Pocion in June, told Metro that he realizes the imperative of moving the community’s approach forward, particularly because the renovated George Washington Bridge bus plaza and mall slated to open in 2017 will guarantee an influx of foot traffic.
“If we don’t evolve with the times, someone is going to come in and steal bread out of our mouths. We have to evolve to maintain our identity,” Pereira-Billini said.
His restaurant is a bold departure from tradition, with its menu of organic foods and cocktails described to have healthful ingredients.
“We are not a vegan vegetarian people,” Pereira-Bellini said. “We are catering to more health-conscious customers, because it is the reality.”