Today, the store on Holland Avenue stands empty, rezoned for residential use. But, for more than 20 years, the soda shop owned by current New York State Attorney General Robert Abram’s parents served as the center of the Pelham Parkway South neighborhood.
Lovie Pignata’s dream is to bring back that sense of community in a new incarnation: as Morris Perk, a café that can double as a community center.
“I’m hoping to incorporate a little of everything,” Lovie says. “Afternoon bridge, mommy-children events for before they have to pick up the older kids from school, and classes, too — art classes, Mother’s Day events. Like a small community center, but it’ll be a business instead of a 501(c)(3).”
Lovie is hoping to capitalize on the diversity of The Bronx community she calls home by celebrating it at Morris Perk.
“We have a lot of flavors in our neighborhood — Albanian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Polish, Italian,” she says. “So I will have visiting people to come in and cook. I’d like to have a varying menu.”
And she sees it as automatic marketing, as well. “If someone’s coming in to cook a lunch special,” she adds, “they’ll be telling their friends about it.”
On her way to achieving that dream, she is raising the capital to equip her restaurant-quality kitchen, welcoming interior design and going through the process of petitioning the city to rezone the storefront for commercial use.
When Lovie was laid off from her job, she dug into her background to find something that truly made her happy. Looking back at an early job as a manager of a coffee shop led her to think of starting Morris Perk.
“Working as a barista, I can’t really afford to live in this day and age, but if I own it, then I can,” she says. “And I can incorporate all my interests.”
Because The Bronx is one of the last sections of New York City to experience gentrification, it has held onto its multi-ethnic, multigenerational nature so far — a unique strength for a business as rooted in community as Morris Perks hopes to be.
“I really feel like The Bronx has kept its identity and its integrity,” she says. “There’s a lot of overlapping of different kinds of people.”