“When I walk in,” he said, “they say, ‘the regular?’ That means two eggs with cheese on whole wheat for me,” he explained, “and one egg scrambled with ketchup for the dog.” Mr. Martinez, who has resided in his apartment since 2013, would have to cut out his daily three-mile run were it not for the time saved by getting his breakfast downstairs.
“Once I come back from running, I’ll go in and order, walk Tyson, and by the time I get back, they have everything done,” he said. “He eats his egg, I eat my sandwich, then I take a shower and we go off to work.”
The place provides a small neighborhood feel in a big city — and it’s open 24/7. “I’ll go to a Yankee game and come home at 2 o’clock in the morning and think, ‘Oh, wait, I’m still hungry.’ So I’ll go in and grab something to eat,” Mr. Martinez said.
Mr. Martinez lived in Patchogue, N.Y., until he was 30 and doesn’t miss the suburban car-centric culture he swapped for his Brooklyn lifestyle. “I used to go to Costco, but now I just don’t have space. It’s easier to buy stuff when you need it,” he said. Everything he needs is right downstairs — he sometimes makes the trip in his slippers.
For a recent college graduate new to New York City, the downstairs bodega can be more than a convenient place to pick up snacks and beer. It can become an extended family.
“It’s always the same three guys that are in there,” said Anita Desai, 22, a legal assistant at the law firm of White & Case, who lives upstairs and one building over from the Natural Grill and Grocery in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “It’s nice to have someone that recognizes you every day,” she said.
Having grown up in Bexley, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, she was accustomed to people saying “hi” to her everywhere she went. “That’s the really jarring difference between here and there — the bodega’s the only place where someone will always say to me, ‘Hi, how are you?’”
Ms. Desai, who graduated from Swarthmore College in 2016, lives with two other recent alumnae. They took up residence in July in a $3,000-a-month, three-bedroom, fourth-floor walk-up, and use a tiered system based on the number of windows in their bedrooms to determine how much each pays in rent. When she was being interviewed as a potential roommate on Skype by Sara Morell and Kassandra Sparks, they mentioned the bodega as a selling point.
“Growing up in the Midwest, I had to get in a car if I wanted Ben & Jerry’s, Cheetos or Kleenex,” Ms. Desai said. “Now, I just walk downstairs.”
She takes pride in showing the little shop to her friends from Ohio when they visit. “I joke that it’s like my own personal room of requirement. I’ve run down in a panic looking for things like light bulbs, batteries, tampons. Every single time, the bodega has had what I wanted,” she said. “Once, I was in the middle of baking something and realized I didn’t have eggs, so they gave me some of their eggs.”
And the Natural Grill and Grocery offers more than the necessities. When one of her roommates looked upset the other day, one of the clerks noticed. “Sara says she was having the absolute worst day, and the only person to recognize that she was upset all day was the guy working at the counter in the bodega,” Ms. Desai said. “He asked her if she was O.K.”