Two tech bros want to replace bodegas and New Yorkers aren’t having it
BYLaura Dimon
Bodega lovers are rising up against the new “Bodega” app and pantry system that would “replace” city corner stores.

Why not just replace the pizza parlors and bagel shops while you’re at it?

A pair of tone-deaf techies want to do away with the Big Apple’s beloved bodegas in favor of oversized pantry boxes that customers could access with a smartphone app.

Former Google employees Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan explained that the little boxes would basically be high-tech vending machines stocked with nonperishable items like toilet tissue, diapers, power bars and popcorn.

Cameras record what customers take, triggering charges to their credit cards.

The claws are out: Don’t mess with New York bodega cats

Bodega lovers are rising up against the new “Bodega” app and pantry system that would “replace” city corner stores.

(sx70/Getty Images)

Not only would the new venture take business away from local mom-and-pop stores, critics said, it would also take away their name.

McDonald and Rajan call their project “Bodega,” and to add cultural appropriation to injury, the product logo is a cat, an eerie nod to the felines often seen at the small corner supermarkets.

But loyal customers said they aren’t having it, and lashed out on the streets and in social media.

Two ex-Google employees Ashwath Rajan (l.) with Paul McDonald (r.), the founders of "Bodega."


“Why would you get something from the machine when you can just go to the store?” asked Nate Kevin, 47, a customer at the Stop 1 Lexington Deli bodega at Lexington Ave. and 112th St. in East Harlem. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

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Sam Saleh, 21, works at the store with his uncle, who opened the business after moving to the U.S. from Yemen.

“He’s been here 25 years so the people that have been living here know him quite a while,” Saleh said.

"Bodega" hopes each pantry box would sell customized items depending on the location.

(Paul McDonald)

Others took to Twitter to troll the idea.

“The people who would use this box are people who would never set foot in a bodega,” @Trinity6215 pointed out.

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“Is that stupid box gonna sell me 2 single newports? Is that stupid box going to heat up my chicken sandwich? No... its not. F--k your box,” said @PorschePedro.

A new company hopes to install bodega inspired vending machines around New York City. Promotional images released show the concept.

(Paul McDonald)

“It’s sacrilegious what these guys are doing,” said Frank Garcia, outgoing chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce said. “They don’t understand. The bodega is very sacred to the community. A machine doesn’t say the stories.”

Garcia’s grandfather was the founder of the Latin Grocery Association, and told him stories about different Hispanic groups making a living by owning bodegas.

“There was a lot of discrimination in the ’40s and ’50s and so this was a way for the Hispanic community to have a safe place to go,” Garcia said. “I’m outraged.”

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anyway, if a store on the corner isn't convenient enough for you, it ain't convenience keeping you out of the bodega. it's the people.

— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) September 13, 2017

Ali Shahbain, 41, who has managed the Adil Newsstand and Candy store in Eastchester for 12 years, said the pantries could put people like him out of business.

“What about our workers?” Shahbain asked. “What are they going to do for jobs?”

The bodega backlash seemed to have hit the mark.

“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning,” McDonald said in a statement on the company website.

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“We apologize. We want to bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist. Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them.”

But loyal bodega customers like Kimberly Avellez, 43, an auto body worker in the Bronx, wanted to tell McDonald what he could do with his pantries.

“If it’s not a corner store, it’s not a bodega,” Avellez said as she bought a pack of cigarettes at a bodega in Eastchester. “Our bodegas make our neighborhoods...It sounds like a Manhattan thing. Don’t bring any pantries over here.” 

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