Shanna Sabio’s Guide to Flatbush
November 14, 2023
Flatbush, a neighborhood that borders the southeast corner of Prospect Park, is a must-visit destination for delving into Brooklyn history, art, food, fashion and more. Prospect Park Alliance spoke with Flatbush civic leader and born-and-raised Brooklynite, Shanna Sabio, about her work in the neighborhood as well as her take on the must-visit, Black-owned spots throughout Flatbush. Sabio is co-founder of GrowHouse Community Design + Development Group and trustee of the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition, a Black-led, multiracial coalition that is working to preserve the Flatbush African Burial Ground and make it an accessible space for the community. Her most recent work, the Sankofa Walking Tour, is an exploration of Black and African history in Brooklyn. In her own words below, Sabio takes us through some of her most beloved spots in Flatbush.
Sabio leading the Sankofa Walking Tour. c. Shanna Sabio
Brooklyn has been an epicenter of global Blackness, with people hailing from almost every Caribbean island, the American South and the African continent. Brooklyn is also an epicenter of gentrification. Amidst the demographic shifts, Black-owned businesses throughout the borough are building a renaissance that needs the support of all New Yorkers to keep Central Brooklyn as a site of important culture, creation and evolution for generations to come. There are a few corridors that feel like the heart of this renaissance in Flatbush.
In researching for my Sankofa Walking Tour at the Flatbush African Burial Ground, I realized that Flatbush has been a melting pot of global Blackness since the mid 1600s when enslaved Africans were brought here to build the infrastructure of what would become Brooklyn. People from the Congo and Angola, Madagascar, Ghana and Nigeria all were brought here, as well as Black people enslaved in the Caribbean. The walk has been evolving as I learn new information and partner with the amazing staff with Prospect Park Alliance’s ReImagine Lefferts Initiative, which is bringing to light the history of enslaved Africans at Lefferts Historic House. As a member of the ReImagine Lefferts Advisory Board, I’m so pleased with the care and thoughtfulness with which they’re engaging our community around this important history—the epitome of allyship in practice.The J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience is an example of using a historic space to connect with and highlight contemporary cultural work.
Shanna’s Guide to Flatbush
One favorite spot is Natural Blend juice bar and restaurant. When members of the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition get together to clean up the perimeter of the burial ground, we often fuel up at Natural Blend.Their patties are delicious and they have a wide variety of beverages including smoothies and house-made ginger beer and sorrel.The yucca pone there also reminds me of the kind my grandmother made during the holidays.
Natural Blend Vegetarian Cafe and Juice Bar c. Prospect Park Alliance
Flatbush Central Market is another key Flatbush destination. The spaces here are gorgeous, especially the Lakay Lounge. The commercial kitchen/tasting room is also really affordable to book and is state-of-the-art. Part of what I love most about Central Brooklyn is the community, and this space has tremendous potential to grow as a hub for Black folks to gather and experiment. Bunnan is also here, and if you love plantain, their sandwich (which uses fried plantains as the bun) is a must-try.
Lakay Lounge in Flatbush Central/Canton Market courtesy of Shanna Sabio and Prospect Park Alliance.
When I need to buy gifts, I always stop by Granru Market. Their t-shirts are really unique and I love their mix of vintage and new clothing. I also love that they’re adding housewares to the selection. A couple of doors down from Granru is Edie Jo’s (one of the partners is Black). It’s a great place to have a working lunch because the staff is so personable and they make you feel welcome and not rushed.
Lips Cafe c. Prospect Park Alliance
From the Burial Ground if you walk to Nostrand Avenue, you can walk pretty much into Bed-Stuy and find places to stop and explore. I’m not vegan, but I crave the food at Aunts et Uncles. Their All Green Everything salad is satisfying and delicious, and I always get their Ginger Cucumber Juice which feels very healing. If I want to imbibe, their cocktails are also expertly crafted and the vibe is always right. Lips Cafe is also a great place to have a working lunch. It feels like family there and I love the connection between this space and Aunts et Uncles across the street. They’re both family-owned, which is a part of our rich legacy as Black folks, and they also share with one another which is how we all grow.
A few blocks across Linden Boulevard is Zanmi. Friday and Saturday nights are a vibe and the food is a new twist on Haitian. The portions are healthy so make sure to save space. Plus, the jerk pork at Jerk Pit is tender, juicy, perfectly spiced, and not to be missed.
In addition to restaurants, cafes and markets, Flatbush is also a hub of fashion.The fact that the legendary Fe Noel has a shop in Little Caribbean is a testament to the work that Shelley Worrell of I AM CARIBBEING has done building this community as a brand. The space is gorgeous and really creates an experience in the shop. I also recently discovered Closet Rich when I was looking for an outfit to wear out. The owner, Star, is a wealth of knowledge about Black women in fashion. I love the fitting room which has pictures of Black women fashion icons. It’s a relatively new business and the prices are so approachable for the kinds of styles she carries.
Learn more about upcoming Sankofa Walking Tours with GrowHouse and check out the above spots to craft your perfect day in Flatbush.