NEWARK, N.J. (PIX11) – In its name, the Ironbound section of Newark harkens back to a time when the neighborhood was surrounded by rail lines, before big box stores took over commerce and when a familiar name and friendly face made for a good day.
In that sense, not much has changed in the Ironbound. It’s one of Newark’s – and New Jersey’s – most eclectic and vibrant neighborhoods; historically known for its strong connection to Portuguese culture.
Ironbound is also home to people like Manny Lopes, aka the Mayor of Ironbound, who moved there from his native Portugal when he was 16.
“We got olive oil from Portugal. We got chestnuts from Portugal. We got wine from Portugal. I mean, you name it,” he said. “This is my life here, 50 years in the same spot, between Jefferson and Congress.”
In addition to being the founder and current president of the Ironbound Business Improvement District, Manny still runs his local hardware store where he sells everything from ordinary tools to specialty items made in his native country. His store is a snapshot of what makes the Ironbound … the Ironbound.
“We work hard to keep the neighborhood nice, clean, safe for us – and for the people who come to us,” said Lopes.
Key vendor John Bufogle echoed Lopes’ sentiments.
“This neighborhood is so unique for north New Jersey. The variety of shops, restaurants, individual mom-and-pop stores,” he said. “When I came here as a kid in the 1970s, it was Italians, and it changed to Portuguese … We have Colombia, Ecuador.”
Ferry Street isn’t just the main thoroughfare that runs through the Ironbound; it’s the heart of this community and home to a growing list of businesses that cater to an increasingly diverse population.
Sihana Café, which means “The ideal place for everybody,” opened up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You can try all kinds of food here: Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican,” said David Khabuliani, co-owner of the Sihana Café.
The café’s Eastern European owners are bringing a new vibe to the historic neighborhood.
“Me and my business partner decided to create something different, something new in Ironbound. We came up with the idea to open up a coffee shop with breakfast and lunch, and early dinner as well. The neighborhood, they really appreciated what we did here,” said Khabuliani.
Zach, a customer passing through, told PIX11 News the cafe caught his attention and he had to check it out: “I said, ‘Wow, what is this place?’”
The answer is in the aromas coming from just about any block in the Ironbound – and it’s a recipe for success.