Beach Dunes Eats & Arts Brings A Meaningful Foodscape to Rockaway

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Rockaway is no food desert when it comes to healthy dining options now, and with the opening of The Campaign Against Hunger’s (TCAH) Beach Dunes Eats and Arts (BDE&A), located on the ground floor of the recently-built Beach Dunes II, a mixed-use residential, passive house living building in Edgemere—the peninsula’s foodscape has just gotten broader. What makes BDE&A already head and shoulders above the competition is their three-prong approach to boosting universal healthy eating through its cafe, food market pantry and culinary arts training center. 

The breakfast and lunch café hosted a soft opening last Monday, November 15, and judging from the menu, Rockaway’s beach-centric lifestyle is the all-encompassing theme. For breakfast, you can indulge in vegetarian, vegan and meat “sand-wiches,” “surf-board” platters and “on-shores” omelettes; and for lunch, “wind surf” chicken or salmon with “surf shop” sides served with your favorite “beach break signature sauce” (jerk/escovitch/honey garlic/honey BBQ/tamarind), “beach dune burgers,” or “hook-n-go wraps.”

Plus at BDE&A’s pantry, patrons can conveniently stock up on staples such as legumes, fresh produce, rice, a variety of milk, whole wheat flour, pasta, coffee, sweeteners, infused oils and much more. A sizable amount of the produce comes directly from TCAH’s urban farms, including their Far Rock Farm located on Beach 45th Street, while other ingredients are sourced from their all-natural suppliers’ network.

According to TCAH Founder and Executive Director Dr. Melony Samuels, the genesis of BDE&A was years in the making to expand TCAH’s food distribution services to include a direct “farm-to-table” café, bringing affordably priced fine dining to the east end. “Six years ago, I opened up the conversation with (then NYC councilman) Queens Borough President Donovan Richards about my idea. I explained to him the Far Rockaway community’s need to access healthy food, and that I was trying to find a space to offer healthy food and culinary arts, plus get the farmer’s market going. The conversation then got to L+M Development Partners, the developers behind Beach Dunes, so that’s where it really started,” Samuels said.

Samuels’ determination to establish TCAH was led by her compassion to support a struggling single mother out of her own pocket. Recognizing that the fight against hunger goes far beyond individual acts of kindness, in 1998, she founded a small food pantry located in the basement of Full Gospel Tabernacle of Faith Church in Brooklyn.

Over the past 22 years, TCAH has grown. In addition to its food distribution centers, pantries, Brooklyn and Far Rockaway farms, the organization offers hundreds of nutrition education classes, workshops and cooking demonstrations. For TCAH, it’s not just about a food handout, but equipping residents with the education to make healthy choices by exposing them to organic food they wouldn’t ordinarily reach for, much less know how to prepare. Their urban farms have continued to infuse heart-healthy fruits and vegetables into urban food deserts and provide gainful employment to local youth. TCAH also offers social services, including SNAP registration, health insurance enrollment, tax filing preparation and more.

According to Samuels, as for BDE&A’s immersive culinary arts component, the goal is to train youths who are unsure about their vocational prospects. This model will increase community capacity for highly skilled workers trained in a number of food production, safety and business practices.

“We aim to recruit youths between the ages of 18 and 24 to give them a basic six-month training on the running operations of a restaurant, from the back office to the front office. Then if they have further interest, we will try to place them in a culinary arts institute to finish their studies, or if they decide not to go to school, we’ll try to place them at another restaurant as staff or interns. The cafe would be the starting point, as we have done with many of our young farmers. For instance, a young lady started our program when she just graduated from high school. She went on to Hunter College and straight through her college years, she stayed with our farming program. Today, she is our farm manager, overseeing three acres of farmland, and does the hiring and building out of our farms. 

“Another example is the cafe’s executive chef, Tracey Johnson, who started with TCAH at age 14, went to college and got her degree in literature. She then attended International Culinary Center (ICC), graduated and decided that she wanted to give back to our program. So, we have invested a lot in our youth, and believe this is another part of our mission to empower the community,” Samuels said. Currently, TCAH is seeking grants to fulfill BDE&A’s culinary arts program.

For manager, Mharlin Germain, managing a food operation such as BBDE&A’s fulfills his passion for boosting healthy food choices. “When I started exercising, I became increasingly conscious of the food I was consuming. At BDE&A, we offer a variety of nutrient dense, delicious food choices,” he said.

Samuels is ecstatic that what started as an idea many years ago has finally come to fruition. “We invite everyone to come in and dine, plus take advantage of our market pantry, featuring hand-picked ingredients to keep your home-cooked meals complete and nourishing.

“We’re also trying to partner with local food businesses to sell their products at our pantry. If you know a local vendor, whose product is naturally grown and on consignment, please tell them about our Farmer’s Market and food pantry, where folks can walk in and get infused oils, bottled seasoning, baked goods and more. Our cafe is a welcoming and affordable place, where a family of four can easily feed everyone for $20. Any money BDE&A makes is just to replenish food stock, sustain the workers and other overhead costs,” Samuels said.

Beach Dune Eatery and Arts Center, located at 45-15 Rockaway Beach Blvd., officially opens its doors on Tuesday, November 30, and will operate five days a week dine-in and take-out, Tuesdays through Sundays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. All major credit and debit cards, including SNAP are accepted. For more info, visit: www.beacheats.org or call 917-650-0951. To learn more about The Campaign Against Hunger, visit: tcahnyc.org.

By Kami-Leigh Agard

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