Bronx cafe owner says community organization that was supposed to help did the opposite

SOUTH BRONX — Joseph Diaz had been a restaurant manager for years, but always wanted to have his own place. He says some people from SoBro, a South Bronx community organization, told him the café in SoBro’s lobby was available for lease.

Diaz says he borrowed $90,000 and last June he opened Da Boogie Down Café at 555 Bergen Avenue. But just two months later, he says SoBro opened a Starbucks on the 3rd floor.

“That starting killing my business from the very beginning,” he says.

Steven Brown, SoBro’s CEO, says the Starbucks is used for job training and only people who work for SoBro get their coffee there. But this Starbucks has low prices. A large coffee is just a dollar. Diaz says he lost many customers who, in addition to coffee, would buy other items. He estimates that’s cost him $150 to $200 dollars a day.

He’s now facing another problem.  His power was turned off yesterday by the building owner. The previous tenant apparently had an illegal hookup for electricity which the building owner just discovered.  He wants Diaz to pay to install an electric meter in the café.  That could take be expensive and take  a month or more. In the meantime, a lot of his food is spoiling and he’s losing income.

Brown, SoBro’s CEO, says his organization is trying to help Diaz and has offered to pay for the meter.  Diaz blames SoBro for many of the problems he’s facing.

“I put my faith in SoBro thinking they knew what they were doing when they helped me open up the business," Diaz said. "I think they failed.”

Brown disagrees and says his organization doesn’t guarantee success.

“We made the match but it wasn’t our business deal," he said.

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