Fodors Small Business Faves: 10 Local Places We’re Obsessed With
Check out some of our editors’ favorite local businesses at the moment!
Shopping local has become more important than ever, with family-owned and small businesses being hit harder than most by the pandemic. While we usually use this column to talk about the things that brought us joy this past month, we wanted to use that platform to instead to draw attention to the small-businesses we love and have been frequenting in our own neighborhoods. From coast to coast, these are the local restaurants, roasteries, bars, and shops we think your dollar would be well-spent at.
WHERE: Pasadena, California
If you’re as predisposed toward choice paralysis as I am, streaming services are not your friend. Or, at least, not your best friend. There are so many things you can watch, but in order to get to the good stuff you can spend the better part of an hour scrolling through various services trying to find a diamond in the rough. Thank goodness for video stores like Videotheque in South Pasadena, California. Videotheque boasts an excellent collection of classic, international, indie, and rare films as well as new releases on DVD and Blu-Ray. The beauty of browsing the shelves of a store with such a well-curated library is that you feel like no matter what you pick you’re going to be watching something great (Lately, instead of browsing their shelves members can browse their catalog online and arrange their rentals ahead of time over the phone.). Not going to be in the greater Los Angeles area anytime soon? Check out their Etsy shop where you’ll find unique posters, postcards, t-shirts, and other ephemera any movie buff will adore.
The Uptown Garrison
WHERE: Hudson Heights, New York
After moving neighborhoods, I discovered the Russian bakery, the hole-in-the-wall pizza spot, the dog-friendly cafe, the romantic little Italian spot, the sushi restaurant, and the lively Irish bar where I would take all my family as there were actual Irish people working there who understood that, sometimes, I want a cup of strong tea between pints. And there was the cool Brooklyn-feeling Uptown Garrison restaurant and bar where I had made a craft-beer fueled offer on my apartment a few months before. I thought, “That will be my local.” The cool barista will greet me by name in the morning, and we’ll talk about me walking up that bloody steep hill to the subway in heels. And the bartender will greet me by name on a Friday evening when I stop in for drinks with my husband to recap the week. I’ll get to know that lively bunch who look like they gather here every weekend for drinks, and soon I will have interesting new friends in my exciting new neighborhood. Instead, the Garrison went into protective hibernation, along with almost everything else on the block. My Irish bar stayed open with to-go food and booze offered even in those darkest weeks. I provided my financial support (that’s how I rationalized boozy Tuesdays) but quickly realized that what made the place special did not translate to a plastic cup or soggy takeout. In May, the Garrison reopened, and I stood on a socially-distanced line and took a photo of my to-go cappuccino. I felt my eyes fill as I thanked the masked attendant at the window and told her I had missed her and all of them. At first, they offered coffees, rich hot chocolates, and a few pastries that sold out almost immediately because everyone was eager to hold paper cups and gobble up the kinds of goodies we used to make ourselves feel bad about pre-pandemic. Then the afternoons brought Pandemic Punch and Frosé, and the evenings saw a takeout menu that grows every week. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken with chili honey ranch is my favorite, and I struggle to limit it to once a week. My family never says no to a Garrison brick-oven pizza or the recently-added, perfectly-crispy Pommes Frites. Last week, I was impressed to see the Garrison added artisanal products and a new CSA-style box of organic vegetables from Pennsylvania farms to bring the farmer’s market to their “uptown family.” I’m still working on feeling like a local in my new neighborhood that I have yet to fully experience, but living through these trying few months together will undoubtedly root me faster.
I look forward to taking off my mask and raising glasses indoors at the Garrison next year (or as long as it needs to take), but until then, I will continue to support from a safe distance. Yesterday the barista said, “Hi Charlie!” to my dog, so we’re almost on first-name terms.
White Star Bar
WHERE: Jersey City, New Jersey
I moved to Jersey City during the pandemic and the best thing about the experience has been discovering all the great small businesses in my new neighborhood. The best take-out in the area is hands-down the burgers at White Star Bar while I’m obsessed with the collection of craft beers (many from NJ) at the Thirsty Quaker.
White Star Bar/Facebook
WHERE: Los Angeles, California
If you love coffee and breakfast (aka you’re human), please drop by this quaint cafe if you call Los Angeles home or you’re passing through in the near future (with your mask on, of course!). With bites like the Morning Melt (eggs, tomato, and sharp cheddar on grilled, buttered bread), Shrimp and Grits, and the Greek Scramble (eggs, feta, marinated onion, spinach, mushrooms, and olives), your taste buds will thank you; they’ll be extra pleased if you decide to pair your meal with one of the cafe’s specialty (decadent) beverages like the Peanut Butter Cup Latte (peanut butter, chocolate, and espresso) or the Lucky Charm Latte. Keep in mind that you can order for delivery or pickup, so…what’re you waiting for?! Also, Instagram foodies take note—follow Undergrind on social media for absolutely mouth-watering content.
WHERE: Miami, Florida
All Day is one of those local, independent coffee shops that makes you feel in the know. It’s where the Park West neighborhood of Miami goes to grab specialty brews, homemade croquetas, and egg sandwiches—or, wine and craft beer in the evening. This is where lattes are art, baristas have serious skill (co-owner Camila Ramos has won competitions!), and menus are carefully-curated. You can even buy locally-sourced groceries like fruit and granola. When fully open, the shop has the chill atmosphere to match, where you can happily type away on your work laptop under the glow of the menu’s neon green lights. If you’re aching for some adventure (and who isn’t, in 2020?), order the “???,”a vegan nitro cold brew made with unexpected ingredients, like aquafaba (that’s whipped chickpea foam), and it is delightful). Even if it’s delivery or takeaway, the quality is top-notch—all day, every day.
Happy Cork Wine & Spirits
WHERE: Bed Stuy Brooklyn, New York
A friend recently put this charming and welcoming wine shop in Bed Stuy on my radar. Hidden in plain sight down a side street beside a deli, they’ve been open for just under two years and feel like a neighborhood staple. The shop is Black-owned, and they also carry a large selection of Black-owned wines and spirit brands, as well as handmade gift items from local artisans, like glassware, chocolate, and candles. For an intimate, curated shop, they have a vast selection, and can provide recommendations. Added perk: they deliver.
Ever wonder what happens to a boat sail when it’s no longer needed? I did, and my search brought me to Sea Bags, a Maine-based company started in 1999 that makes bags out of discarded sails gathered from local fishermen. I love this sustainable and community-minded company and it’s become my go-to for gifts. The bags and accessories are designed and hand-sewn in the heart of Portland’s working waterfront using thread from one of the country’s last thread manufacturers and rope from one of New England’s few rope manufacturers for handles. My current favorite is the Ogunquit beach bag, which has an outside pocket for wet bathing suits and a grommet in the bottom corner to let sand out. Two things this mom very much appreciates.
Courtesy of Sea Bags
Frenchy, Mojo Mousse Bar
WHERE: East Harlem, New York
I live in East Harlem on the upper east side of Manhattan, and we are blessed with a plethora of small businesses. I am lucky enough to live just a block from a great bakery called Frenchy, which makes excellent croissants and pastries, muffins, coffee, and sandwiches. When you could still eat in, they offered comfy couches, fast Wi-Fi, and a cool (or in winter, warm) place to sit. If I could, I’d be tempted to move in.
Another favorite I can walk to from my apartment is Mojo Mousse Bar, which serves coffee and housemade chocolate mousse (well, actually all manner of mousses and a few pastries). Since the COVID-19 mess started, the shop has even expanded its menu to include Belgian beef stew and Bolognese sauce to go. I hope the savory offerings stay on offer, and they will get me through the winter.
Obet and Del’s, Stick BBQ
WHERE: Los Angeles, California
Though Thai BBQ and an iced latte might not sound like they go together, they have become my go-to meal when I’m looking for a lunch I haven’t cooked. Obet and Del’s, which opened in Los Angeles’ Thai Town neighborhood a few months prior to lockdown, has started welcoming coffee lovers to their bright space once again. The shop boasts homemade oat milk and a variety of caffeinated drinks you wouldn’t find at your standard Starbucks. While a latte is always a great option, their specialty Filipino Iced Coffee, which is made with a dark roast and sweet ube oat milk, is worth trying (and the extra dollar).
And a short block away, you can find the guys behind Stick BBQ setting up their grill on the corner of Hollywood and Winona (though they do move throughout the week, so check out their Instagram to find their exact location). Here you can get perfectly-cooked, charred, and BBQ-ed pork or chicken sticks. Perfectly spicy and sweet, these skewers make for a great lunch to-go (plus, it’s meat on a stick, it can’t be that bad for you).
Hutch + Waldo
WHERE: Manhattan, New York
There’s a great little coffee shop off Second Avenue on the Upper East Side called Hutch + Waldo. It’s small but it’s very open and has a welcoming vibe. It’s Australian owned so the coffee, including flat whites and cortados, is first rate. All the food is locally sourced, breakfast is served all day (get the brekkie sando, natch) and there are also salads, bowls, and smoothies. It provides meals for frontline health care workers and on the website you can write a letter of support that’ll be attached to one of them (you can also make a donation on the site).
Hutch and Waldo/Facebook