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Welcome to the Neighborhood: Caleta, 131 Avenue A

Today we welcome a new small business to our neighborhoods — help us welcome the next. Tell us which new independent store in Greenwich Village, the East Village, or NoHo you’re excited about by emailing us at info@villagepreservation.org.

As advocates for local small business, we find great satisfaction in hearing of new independent establishments opening in our neighborhoods. These arrivals give us hope that reports of the death of mom-and-pops have been greatly exaggerated. Whenever such occasions present themselves, we like to share our enthusiasm with the world in the hopes that others will join us in wishing our new neighbors a warm welcome, and more tangibly, patronize and spread the word to help ensure their success and survival.

In Venezuela, “caleta” is a place for keeping secrets. In the East Village, it’s the name of a small business that recently opened at 131 Avenue A (as reported by our colleagues at EV Grieve); and we’re about to let its secret out: Inventive ice cream, inspired bar snacks, and beer and wine, coming together in an unexpected high-brow/low-brow allegiance that will surprise and delight you!

Part-scoop shop, part-bar, part-restaurant — without exactly being any of of those things — Caleta is the brainchild of Jesse and Javi Zuñiga, who, through separate, circuitous routes, landed in downtown gastronomic scene, where they came together as a couple and as creative partners. Javi abandoned legal studies in his native Venezuela to pursue a passion for food instilled in part by his father’s cooking. After a stint at fine dining restaurants back home, he came to New York, drawn by the approach of Lower East Side restaurants Wildair and Contra, where he managed to get a stage and then a job, first, making their bread (and if you’ve ever had the bread at Contra, no more needs to be said) and then their desserts. Jesse, for her part, gravitated toward the restaurant industry, looking for something more hands-on than the career in art history that she had once considered. At the various restaurants where she worked as a pastry cook she grew to love the camaraderie, immediacy, and intensity of the work. One of those restaurants was Wildair, where she met Javi. To unwind after service, the two would sometimes come up to East Village bars like Manitoba’s or Shirley’s and have a pint of beer. Other times, they would share a pint of ice cream. And then one day, their unwinding treat struck them as a business idea. Within thirty minutes, they had a name, logo, flavor ideas, and a cache-full of “ice cream machine” searches. 

Before long, Jesse and Javi were selling Bad Habit ice cream retail and wholesale out of their apartment, delivering it all over town in the daytime and making ice cream at night. Not long after that, they found their business model unsustainable — not just because it left little time for sleep, but because one can fit only so many chest freezers in a New York City living room. So they decided to open a shop, a hybrid space that would accommodate their expanding wholesale ice cream production. This would make their sweet and savory creations directly available to the public, and serve as a flexible gathering space for all occasions: an afternoon ice cream pick-me-up, a light snack and beer, or a full dinner cobbled together from Caleta’s always evolving and exciting small plate selections.

The location of the couple’s new venture was never truly in doubt. Enthusiastic habitués of the East Village and devotees of its musical history, Jesse and Javi, as Jesse explains it, find in the neighborhood both qualities that they seek to emulate in their business and ones to which they want to contribute:  

The East Village is organic, DIY… not always the most beautiful; but it’s super poetic! There is a neighborhood feel that you don’t find in most of New York, regardless of how much it changes. There’s a whole range of different people. We only looked in the East Village. 

The East Village, or course, has no shortage of great ice cream parlors. Even in that context, however, Caleta’s flavors stand out as idiosyncratic, as well they should, given the disparate sources that influenced their development. Some trace their origins to the creators’ personal background, like coffee and lime, which was inspired by Javi’s father’s habit of capping his meals with an espresso and a slice of lime. Others are shaped by their culinary sensibilities, like miso blackberry miso, where the sweet, dark juiciness pops out of the earthy depths of the ice cream’s base. As for Caleta’s “bar snacks,” those coming in expecting sliders and potato chips are in for a surprise. On any given day, the menu features an assortment of unfussy but often eye-popping dishes, some familiar and reimagined, like the creamsicle “cake” slice, others drawing eclectically from international cuisines, like the mussels with gochujang and oregano. Rounding out the menu, Caleta offers a carefully curated selection of natural wines that you can enjoy with your meal.

olive oil bombe
mussels with gochujang and oregano
hojicha baked alaska

Looking ahead, Jesse and Javi will soon be resuming their wholesale operation, which went into hiatus while they set up their new shop, and they have begun to plan events, like the upcoming Valentine’s Day evening, when Caleta will be offering themed snacks and a special champagne list. But you don’t need to wait until then to swing by and welcome Caleta to the neighborhood. You are likely to find as much poetry in its ice cream as Jesse and Javi have found in the afterglow of the East Village’s rock ‘n roll past. 

If you would like us to welcome another independent business to the neighborhood, please let us know at info@villagepreservation.org.

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