CLAREMONT VILLAGE — Michael Alfred promises late-night jazz sets, open-mic poetry slams, cocktails and coffee one day soon inside Sunkofa, his small gift shop on Southern Boulevard, just steps from Crotona Park East.
If the scene seems reminiscent of the Lower East Side, Alfred argues it’s just as suited for the South Bronx.
“I had a guy who told me, ‘This is Starbucks in the hood,’” said Alfred, 49, who co-owns the shop with Kevin Bean at 1789 Southern Blvd., near Boston Road and the 174th Street 2 and 5 train stop.
“A lot of people are caught off guard, because they don’t think anything of quality should be in The Bronx,” Alfred added. “Even though this area is up and coming.”
The store has sold carved African masks, Tibetan-style colored flags, organic beauty supplies, Afrocentric cards and books and other imported odds and ends since 2009.
Next month, after two years of planning and prepping, the store will begin to serve coffee and tea, sandwiches and pastries and freshly made juice and smoothies in an adjacent café space with seating for 50 and free WiFi.
The owners plan to host music and poetry shows in the space and, once they obtain a license, to sell liquor.
“It’s available in Harlem,” as well as downtown Manhattan, said Alfred, referring to the juice bars and coffee shops that double as community hubs and performance venues. “I wanted to bring that up to The Bronx.”
Lured by first-time homeowner subsidies, Alfred and his wife moved from Central Brooklyn to the South Bronx 16 years ago, only to find crumbling buildings, drug dealers and empty parks, he said.
But today, after years of steady improvements, he barely recognizes his old neighborhood by Crotona Park.
Crime is down, handsome new buildings seem to pop up daily and when he takes his morning jogs through the park, he’s no longer the only runner around.
“The area from the Bronx Zoo down to here is going to be prime property,” Alfred predicted, citing the attractive new housing, the revived park space and the intersection of several freeways, bus routes and a train line.
(Alfred knows a thing or two about transportation — he’s a longtime truck driver who owns an 18-wheeler and used to supply ShopRite supermarkets throughout the Northeast.)
Sunkofa has already started stocking up on locally made ginger beer, sea moss juice and sorrel, a popular Caribbean beverage made from the herb roselle. Soon, the owners will bring in pastries made along Arthur Avenue.
The sandwiches will start out simple — turkey, tuna salad, veggies — until a fully equipped kitchen is installed, Alfred said.
And prices will be kept low to make sure the café is affordable for everyone, he added.
On Tuesday, a passerby poked his head in the door to ask whether the store will use a “a real juicer — not just a blender.” (Alfred showed him the juicer.)
The passerby, Jamaal Jones, 29, said he works in the area and has been waiting for just such a place.
“There’s a need for healthier alternatives in The Bronx,” Jones said as he admired the juicer. “We need to prove to people that we want stuff like this around here.”
The store is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The new café and juice bar is expected to open Feb. 16 and operate from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.