By James Maher
Name: Katie Kenney
Occupation: Student, Employee at Zaragoza
Location: Zaragoza, Avenue A and 13th Street
Time: 5 on Monday, March 19
I’ve lived in the neighborhood for four years and on 7th and D for three years. I’m from Rhode Island and I came here to go to the New School. I’m studying anthropology and I graduate in May. I’m actually writing my thesis about the ethnography of Zaragoza. It’s about family business. I had a regular in here recently asking me what I was going to do after I graduate and he’s like, ‘You’re probably going to be here full time after that.’ I mean, probably. The job prospects aren’t great. I’m probably just prepping myself for a lifelong career in food service.
Zaragoza is owned by the Martinez family. It’s the mom, Maria, the dad, Pompeo, and their son Reuben. Maria does all of the cooking at the restaurant and Pompeo is always here. They make all of the food at the family restaurant in Coney Island and bring it in every day. They’re the hardest working people that I’ve ever met in my life. We stay open late on the weekends and Reuben will tell his parents to go home and relax, and they’re like, “No, what are we going to do at home? Let’s just hang out here, it’s way better.” They stay all night.
I’ve been working here for three years. It’s going to be officially three years on March 25 and I will never let them forget it. The first year anniversary of working here I made them buy me a cake at Veniero’s. They wrote “Employee of the year” on it.
I eat here always. It gets very crowded at night. Even if it’s a very slow night at 2 am we’ll always get the drunk rush, no matter what. We used to get way busier because we had a liquor license but it expired and now there’s all this bureaucratic stuff to try and get it back. It’s taken forever. At one point we had to get everyone to sign a petition to give to the Community Board and there was a lot of community support. It’s just taken way too long. How busy we are also depends on the time of the year or the time of the month. When people just pay rent no one goes out to eat.
I started working here because I really needed a job. I used to come in here a lot and I was working at an American Apparel. That was the worst thing ever, so I had to quit that job immediately. I thought it would be great if I could just work here and then they hired me because they were planning to go to Mexico and they needed some extra help. Then it just stuck.
The thing that’s great about this place is that, since it’s a family business, they really appreciate their customers and they feel loyal to them. In this neighborhood there are a lot of small businesses, but you don’t get that everywhere. This place is very special. If I have the sniffles or a cold they give me medicine and say, “Katie do this and this.”
Also, they think rubbing alcohol is definitely going to fix any ailment that I may have. It’s rubbing alcohol and all of their cold medicines that I have no idea what they are. They take care of me. They’re like my parents here. They’re like, “Yeah we’ll adopt you.” We’ve went to soccer games and we go out to eat and all sorts of family stuff.
I always get the same questions. New people who just come in ... “Oh, how long have you worked here? Do you speak Spanish? How did you get this job? And do you live in this neighborhood?” Those are the four questions. As soon as someone new tries to talk to me, I’m like, “I know exactly what you’re going to say and I might as well just give you the answers right now.”
There are some people who seem to have some animosity toward me, like oh god she’s gentrifying this bodega. Maybe that’s true and they weren’t looking to hire some random white girl. I just kind of forced them too. And now that I’ve been here for so long, if anything, I’ve adapted to them. It’s very strange and random that I work here. For example, I’ll do deliveries and people get very uncomfortable. The last thing they expect is a little girl to show up. I show up and they’re fumbling to give me more money and I’m like you don’t have to tip me any more. I haven’t seen anyone open the door without pants yet though.
We get good reviews on Yelp. I read the Yelp reviews because I’m interested to know what people think about us and the last review that I read that mentioned me was like, “Yeah, there’s some weird white girl with a nose ring. I wonder what her deal is?”
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.