They’re a cold cut above the rest.
Desperate to stand out in a sea of their peers — and to keep picky millennials from saying “Screw it, I’ll just get it on Prime” — bodegas are going to drastic lengths to lure customers.
The utilitarian convenience shops, which sell everything from Boar’s Head sandwiches and chips to loose cigarettes and toilet paper, are a city staple: The Bodega Association of the U.S. estimates that there are 16,500 bodegas in NYC.
But these days, bacon-egg-and-cheese slingers find that younger customers are “expecting more” of grab-and-go stores, Jim Calvin, the president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, tells The Post.
“Convenience is still important to them, but they want it delivered with freshness and flair, and with an element of connectivity,” says Calvin. “The old smokes-and-Cokes feel of some convenience stores doesn’t do it for them.”
In Manhattan, climbing costs for operating a brick-and-mortar only add to the crunch.
“Commercial rents for many retailers have skyrocketed, and they need to maximize sales in order to keep pace with costs,” says Calvin.
These pressures have given rise to an entirely new breed of bodega: tricked-out, trumped-up stores with millennial-friendly bells and whistles. There’s the Lower East Side grocery with an amped-up, branded deli counter and an aggressive social media plan; the wellness-y Soho store with kombucha slushies on tap; and even a South Street Seaport bodega with a full-service speakeasy bar in the back. Here, their owners and chefs break down their unusual draws.
The deli influencer
With its faded baby-blue awning and neon Bud Light window sign, Ben’s Deli Grocery, at 32 Avenue B on the Lower East Side, looks like any other bodega. But step inside the shop — which served as a set location for the Netflix hit “Russian Doll,” according to the bodega manager — and deli chef Jennifer Corporan greets you with a show.
“I sing, dance and cook while I make and create your food,” says Corporan, 33, who took over the deli station eight months ago. At the end of her shift, she uploads videos of her antics and some hot sandwich content to Instagram. Between her personal account, @LionessCuisine, and the deli’s, @DancinTastebuds, Corporan has netted about 3,500 followers with her upbeat ’tude and food porn.
“Social media is free promotion,” says Corporan, a Washington Heights native who goes by Chef Lioness behind the counter. “I could be outside giving samples to people every day, or I can post on social media . . . I take advantage of that opportunity.”
Her strategy seems to be working: Local fans and curious tourists are trekking out to Ben’s to try her Dominican fusion foods, and they don’t mind paying a bit of a premium for the experience. (Corporan’s chopped cheese goes for $9 — about a buck fifty more than your standard bodega sammy.)
She’s even using the platform to target boldface clientele: On a recent Wednesday night, she convinced California R&B singer Adrian Marcel to stop by for a chopped cheese during his NYC tour.
“I slid into his DMs, and it worked,” she says.
As Corporan cooked up the ground-beef sandwich, topped with her Insta-famous “tastebudgasmsauce” (think creamy tomato, like vodka sauce), she and Marcel sang along to his songs together.
“Me singing, dancing and cooking with my favorite artists . . . [That’s] what [my business] was intended to be,” she says.
Snacks and a speakeasy
By day, the Little Shop, at 252 Front St. in the Seaport District, is a good spot to snag typical bodega bites. It’s got the usual suspects (Cheetos, Cup Noodles) as well as fancier staples (Tate’s cookies, almond butter) and a deli.
Return after dusk and you’ll find a very different scene: trendy locals slipping through a secret door in the back to a swanky speakeasy bar.
The snug boîte has a highbrow-lowbrow vibe, which co-owner Anna Bazhenova thinks is a sweet spot for 30-something Manhattanites in the area.
“[You want] a nice cocktail, but could also want Cheetos at midnight,” she says. “People save their money all month for one nice handbag, but are pretty basic in all other areas of life.”
Cocktails, which range from $11 to $16, include a mezcal-turmeric elixir, while a whitefish dip is served with chips from the store in front.
“It’s a nice mix of junk and fine food,” Bazhenova, 28, says of the watering hole, which opened in December.
While the bodega’s authenticity is debatable — there’s no scruffy cat or loose beers for sale — Bazhenova and her business partner, Philippe Boujnah, 42, say locals are into it.
“People are like, ‘Where has this been for the last 10 years?’ ” says Boujnah, who’s lived in the area for 20 years.
Healthy in a hurry
If you’re craving something snacky that won’t derail your diet, head to the Goods Mart at 189 Lafayette St. in Soho.
“We have everything you’d find at a 7/11, but without GMOs, artificial flavors and preservatives,” says the store’s founder, Rachel Krupa, 40. “There’s basically a better-for-you counterpart to everything in a gas station.”
One of Krupa’s biggest crowd-pleasers is her kombucha slushies.
“I loved slushies as a kid and knew we had to have them,” says Krupa, who spent a lot of time at her local Michigan gas station growing up. “If you want sugar, have it, you just don’t need all the other added stuff.”
Krupa’s shop offers up a healthy version of most bodega staples. “If you like Doritos, you’ll probably like Siete, or if you like Cheetos, you’re gonna like Barbara’s Cheese Puffs,” she says.
There’s even upscale toiletries, including feminine products and toilet paper made from bamboo and organic cotton.
“I call it my ‘oh s - - t side,’ ” says Krupa, pointing to the toiletries section. “Like, ‘Oh, s - - t, I forgot toilet paper and tampons.’ ”