The scene was lively this past weekend as the second annual Juneteenth Celebration hosted by LeeCooks CHURCH, a local to-go food business in Taos, kicked off at the Revolt Gallery. The weekend not only marked the celebration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States, but was also the official opening of the “Godega,” a New York City-inspired store that will eventually carry everything from locally-sourced crafts and clothing to grab-and-go food.
A NYC experience in Taos
For those who have not spent much time in the Big Apple, a “bodega” is a neighborhood corner store, where people can grab everyday items, including food, in a pinch. “It’s like a community hub sandwich spot that's usually in every neighborhood,” said Leondra Clayton, owner and operator of LeeCooks CHURCH and now the Godega.
“It’s like a corner shop, and it's also a variety store,” explained Dorothy Vaughn, customer relations specialist for LeeCooks CHURCH and the Godega. “Growing up, if you needed something in a pinch — and you didn't have time to run all the way to the supermarket or run all the way to the convenience store or Walgreens or whatever — you can get laundry detergent, you can get baby formula… you can get a little bit of everything at the bodega.”
Vaughn explained the Godega is “a boutique bodega” that features goods made primarily by Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC). “Everything on the shelves are locally sourced or black- and brown-owned." Once the business is fully realized by the end of the month, it will function like a deli/gallery/market,” Clayton said.
“It'll have all those knickknacks that you would find in a bodega, but it's also really finely curated by all these artists that make it,” Vaughn said. They will have a coffee setup where people can come get their morning pick-me-up, a display fridge with grab-and-go items, a frozen fridge for paletas and more. Vaughn reminisced about the Michael Jackson arcade game in the corner of her neighborhood bodega. “I just want to bring that energy here.”
The shop will also carry a rotating menu of sandwiches curated by Clayton, which are currently being cooked in La Fonda Hotel’s commercial kitchen. “We want to curate probably anywhere between six to 10 sandwiches,” she said. “We also want to use people who make bread here, like local bread makers, and do special sandwiches for holidays.” She said she is currently in talks with someone to make New York-style Hero Bread.
The goal is to focus on breakfast and lunch. “We're gonna be doing breakfast, so it'll definitely be open in the morning. I think people want breakfast and lunch more than anything. That's what we found,” said Clayton.
A community effort
Clayton and Vaughn said they would not have been able to open the store without tremendous community support. “[The Godega] is kind of a way for us to kind of pay it forward, because it was our community that bought our products and got us to this point in this amount of time,” said Vaughn. “It's like an opportunity for us to keep doing what we’re doing and to spotlight all these other people in the community that people don't know or haven't met yet.”
Clayton said she is often asked how they were able to make their venture happen. “It almost seems like people are scared to do things for whatever reason. I've had at least three people come to me who've lived in Taos for over a decade, and they’re like ‘How are you doing what you're doing?’ and ‘Oh my God, thank you.’ But we felt like doing it. So we did.”
Vaughn said their success is a matter of simply putting themselves out there. “For instance, people are like, ‘How are we able to do all this?’ We ask! We ask all the businesses around, and you'd be surprised how many of them are open to saying ‘Yeah, I want to help you do this,’” they said.
She said they collaborated with a handful of businesses for the Juneteenth event, including the Paseo Project, Taos Community Foundation, Hotel La Fonda de Taos and Taos Valley Lodge. Both hotels offered to house some of the traveling musicians who performed at the Juneteenth event for free, she said.
“We were able to raise over $8,000 that will be dispersed to over 30 Black and brown people,” said Vaughn. “There were a ton of people able to help, and that's simply by going to each of these businesses in town and they're like, ‘Yeah, absolutely, no worries, I got you.’”
Clayton also said Revolt Gallery owner Steve McFarland was instrumental in helping them realize their vision. “I don't know where we could have had [the Godega] anywhere else,” said Clayton. McFarland is also the owner of the building housing the Godega.
“Whatever we can think we want to host or do at the gallery [McFarland] is like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ He always gives us the space to play,” added Vaughn.
The Godega opened officially on Friday evening (June 17) for a private dinner and musical event. On Saturday, the public Juneteenth celebration began with a fashion show highlighting different locally-made clothing items.
Clayton said this was the highlight of the weekend for her. “Even though it rained, people still stayed, the models still walked, and everybody was represented. It was like disabled, Hispanic, people from the Pueblo, natives, white, Black. It felt inclusive — more inclusive than anything I've seen happen here,” she said.
“My favorite part was Miss Marley,” said Vaughn, describing the musician who performed Sunday, belting songs while playing the keyboard. “I’m so happy the rain didn’t deter people from hanging out. That’s what I love about Taos: No one's afraid of the rain, the wind, the snow. They’re like 'Hey, if this is good, I’m gonna stick around regardless.’”
Albuquerque-based Haitian band Racine Kreyol closed out the Juneteenth celebration as Clayton and Vaughn brought chop cheese sandwiches out to hungry crowd members who danced despite the deluge.