Excenia Mette has always loved cooking. She learned how to cook by watching her mother and father in the kitchen growing up. Even before she opened Momma Zee’s Food to Plez, located at 2061 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd. in Harlem, she was always cooking and selling food.
“I always had some little cooking business, usually out in front of the house or from inside the house cooking soul food,” said Mette. “My grandmother used to sell dinners out of her home. She was named Excenia, I was named after her. She used to sell food to feed the family. My uncle had a deli in Brooklyn years ago, before I even moved to New York City. It’s a family tradition.”
While her family history helped inform her decision to open her own bodega, she also wanted to help serve the community by having ready-made meals for those to come in and grab a bite to eat without worrying about cooking themselves. Now, she runs the first women and Black-owned bodega in New York City since 1987.
“I started thinking it was going to be a deli with not a lot of cooking involved,” said Mette. “But once I opened, there was a high demand for the food. They would come in for home-cooked soul food — which is my specialty — basically so they could come in, grab food and go. I wanted to cater to the community.”
Like many small businesses in New York City, Momma Zee’s was hit hard by the pandemic. The bodega used to sell out of food daily — now, the customer traffic is no longer what it used to be.
With the danger of the bodega closing down for good due to the pandemic, Mette set up a GoFundMe for the community to donate to. However, once AriZona Iced Tea, a New York City bodega staple, caught wind of the situation, they knew they had to help.
“I have to be careful about the food portions because you don’t want to waste it. I can literally make only $200 for the day. Some days are good, some days are bad,” said Mette. “Ever since AriZona stepped in, it’s been bringing more people in. AriZona caught wind on Facebook that I was doing a GoFundMe and started putting things together.”
AriZona Iced Tea had originally featured Momma Zee’s in AriZona’s 2019 ‘Great Buy Magazine’ story on New York Bodega culture. Because Momma Zee’s is seen as a part of the AriZona Iced Tea family, the company decided to match donations up to $25,000 to the GoFundMe. AriZona Iced Tea developed a tote bag with food that is also available for purchase in-store at Momma Zee’s.
“I have been sitting here suffering and never received one quarter from the government,” said Mette. “AriZona has been there every single day, they’ve been so incredible. I talk about them every day. I came to New York and never would think someone would come to offer me help.”
The GoFundMe for Momma Zee’s has a goal of $75,000, which will go towards paying rent, utilities, payroll, liabilities and food distributors. The campaign will run until the goal is met.
“I want people to understand that I’m not here to say, ‘I have a business.’ I want to enhance the community. We used to be able to give back to every program in the area for children. Every time someone passes away, I cook dishes to give to that family even if I don’t know them personally. I always give back to the community,” said Mette. “[The government] needs to help small businesses, we are really suffering right now. Without government help, we cannot provide and we cannot survive. We need people like AriZona to step up and help us.”
To donate to the Momma Zee’s GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/f/save-mommazee039s-black-owned-deli-in-nyc.