Thomas Gonzales grew up on Broome Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He owns two local bodegas, 528 East Eleven Deli Corp. and the Broome Street Grocery. He appears to be young for his accomplishments. We recently caught up with him at his 11th Street bodega.
With three employees Thomas runs a relaxed, tight ship. You can often catch him behind the counter, working the register and conversing with his local customers and friends. His charming personality and twinkling eyes are very welcoming.
Thomas’s customers are loyal and over the 7 years he has owned his bodegas, most have become close friends, like Jessica who lives across street from the 7-Eleven construction site. Drinking her morning coffee she was surprised to hear a 7-Eleven was coming to a neighborhood already served by a number of bodegas.
“Is that what it’s going to be? Nobody shops at 7-Eleven! We don’t need another store. We’ve got this bodega, a bodega on 12th Street and Avenue B and another one on 12th Street and Avenue A ,” she says. “7-Eleven should be in a place where the people need it. I don’t think it’s going to last. I won’t shop there! My children like this store and they like Mr. Thomas.”
Thomas smiles at this. He knows his customers and he knows what they need – good homemade comfort food. While we chat more customers stream in. Thomas knows them all, from the local old timers to the students on their way to class. They come to his bodega to buy their freshly made breakfast sandwiches – steak and eggs – tostones (plantains), coffee, milk and juice.
Thomas recognizes the customers who live in the neighborhood and tries to accommodate their various and changing needs by selling everyday organic products like milk, eggs and cheese.
More customers stop in. Rockman is a devoted 11th Street customer. He works at the delivery company RDS on 11th Street between Avenue A and 1st Ave. He orders his two sandwiches, steak and eggs for himself and an egg sandwich for his co-worker.
From his place of work Rockman passes the 7-Eleven construction site to get to this bodega. He goes out of his way to shop here “because of its good people, familiar faces and its good, fresh, cheap food!” He shops here because this is his neighborhood bodega and he is committed to its success in the neighborhood.
Like many people we spoke with this morning, Rockman wouldn’t think of buying food at the new 7-Eleven.“7-Eleven has these… things rolling in the window for hours. Who wants to eat that? It’s not fresh.”
Vincent, an older distinguished man pops his head in.
“Thomas, where’s your car?” he asks.
“I left it home,” says Thomas.
“I’ll give you a ride to Broome Street. My car is across the street,” says Vincent.
Thomas takes the ride with Vincent, his customer, friend and neighbor.