Bushwick has been witness to a huge increase in the number of businesses in the past months – from bars and restaurants to galleries and pet stores. While this explosion gave Bushwick residents more reasons to hang out locally, it also raised many questions. Who actually owns these businesses, and who are these businesses created for? Do long-term Bushwick residents also get to benefit from the startup heat in the area or is this strictly recent “transplants” matter? We are very glad to inform you that many Bushwick businesses are owned by the Bushwick “natives” and are doing really well. Take Bushwick-raised Leticia Castillo and Carmen Valerio, who have recently opened their second business in the area – Owl Juice Pub on Wyckoff Ave.
Both Letty and Carmen are inspiring independent women in their forties whose friendship grew into a business partnership and continued to flourish. “We have known each other since we were 19,” Carmen says. “We became close on a trip to Bear Mountain,” adds Letty. “We sat together on a bus, and just started talking. I always say, I fell in love with her,” Letty laughs.
Carmen and Letty opened Café Central over 2 years ago. At first the ladies wanted a restaurant. However, the space they found on Central Ave was more suitable for a coffee shop. “Thank god we “only” opened a coffee shop…It is so much work!” says Letty. “We cut back a little but at first we have been working crazy hours there, and we both had jobs in addition. In fact I still have a job,” continues Carmen, who works at a city agency.
Carmen is a gifted interior designer who can turn any space into a cozy delight, and Letty used to work in the restaurant business when she lived in California. They complement each other when it comes to skills, and also personalities. Carmen’s father also used to own a bodega where she spent her summers behind a register. “Any experience was useful,” said Carmen.
Carmen and Letty are both Dominican. Letty moved to Bushwick with her parents as a 3-year old, and Carmen was born in New York. “My grandparents moved to Bushwick, and they never left. They bought a house, which they still own, and stayed through all the changes,” says Letty. “I went to day care and to 1st grade at Knickerbocker,” Carmen smiles. Later on, excitement and curiosity led Carmen to Manhattan and Europe. Letty was trying her luck as an actress in California. They both moved back to the neighborhood to open a business. “Bushwick is coming alive, you can step out of your house and go for a drink, desert, or juice…That’s the best feeling ever because we’re from here,” says Carmen.
Two years ago, Central Avenue desperately needed a coffee shop and, needless to say, cozy Café Central became a hit among Bushwickians of all sorts of backgrounds. Owl Juice Pub was a natural move for the ladies. “We sat down, and thought about what the neighborhood needs, ” says Letty. “When we were building this place, people were stopping by and telling us, they were hoping this wasn’t going to be another bar. They wanted food…and we wanted to make juices!”
As business owners, Letty and Carmen say that it is great to be in Bushwick. “We still don’t have so many things here, so if you have a great idea, you can just do it,” says Carmen. “You only have to keep in mind young audience and that you can’t have Manhattan prices.”
“As for the old businesses, it is great for them as well,” Letty continues. “The bodega across the street from café expanded and renovated. They are not getting rid of old things, but they are adding new products like brown rice. And they didn’t raise the prices.”
We were also curious about the employees of Carmen and Letty. “We have a rainbow,” Letty laughs. “Hipster, not a hipster, all that matters to me is if the person can do it and is not lazy,” says Carmen. “We currently employ Mexicans, Dominicans, a person from Ohio, and even Russia.”
In regards to the future, Letty jokingly says, “We will open three more places, and have somebody else run it.” Carmen laughs too, “We’ll be chilling at a Caribbean island…”