Oct. 4. 2022 By Michael Dorgan
The owners of a well-known yoga studio in Sunnyside are set to open a new grocery store that aims to reduce people’s use of plastics and packaging.
The store, which will be called Seed and Oil by Suryaside, will open at 49-20 Skillman Ave. and offer items such as dry foods, nuts, seeds, cooking oils and legumes. The establishment will be located near the corner of Skillman Avenue and 50th Street, adjacent to Aubergine Café, and is scheduled to open in November.
The business will be stocked with grocery items that are kept in bulk. Customers will bring their own containers to the store and fill them up with the items they purchase.
The goal of Seed and Oil is to help people be more environmentally conscious by eliminating plastic and other forms of disposable packaging from everyday grocery items. The owners of the company have launched a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter to generate funds to get the new business off the ground.
“It will be a zero-waste, package-free grocery store,” said Roque Rodriguez, a co-owner of the business. “It’s to get individuals to reduce their single plastic use so there’s less garbage that ends up getting turned into microplastics … that end up going back into the ocean and polluting the environment.”
The new business is owned by Rodriguez and his wife, Sivan, along with the husband-and-wife duo of Kana and Yuuki Hirano. The two couples also co-own the yoga studio Suryaside Yoga, which is located on the same block. They are also partnering with Katrina Sacino, the manager of Suryaside Yoga, in the new venture.
Sivan Rodriguez said that the new store will be an extension of their yoga studio and will bring something new to the community.
“It’s definitely a big trend that you’re going to start to see a lot more of and we thought that our neighborhood definitely deserved to be able to take advantage of that,” Sivan said.
The store will also offer rice, spices, coffee beans, and food spreads like almond and peanut butter. Seed and Oil will also sell household and cleaning items, as well as skin care products and self-care products such as shampoos and conditioners. It will also offer toiletries.
Sivan said the concept also helps smaller households that only need to purchase items as needed or by weight.
The store will offer environmentally friendly and mostly organic items that will be sourced from local vendors when possible. Preference will be given to minority-owned, and women-owned businesses, they said.
Seed and Oil has adopted a black squirrel called Sami as its logo in order to emphasize its commitment to sourcing its products locally and helping the community. The black squirrel is found mostly in the northeast.
The business also shares a slogan with Suryaside: “Practicing Humanity.” The slogan represents the mission of both spaces, Roque said.
“We believe that being a more conscious and mindful human is a daily practice. We are opening the store, in part, to help make it easier for people to practice being the humans they strive to be.”
The business will offer residents in NYCHA housing a 15 percent discount to help make the store accessible to people of all income brackets.
“I think sometimes living here in Sunnyside or Woodside, we can just forget about some of our neighbors who are dealing with systemic issues,” Roque said.
“So, we want to help address those specific issues ourselves by giving them a discount on quality organic goods.”
The opening of the business comes at a busy time for the owners. They are in the midst of rebuilding Suryaside in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdowns. The studio is back in operation, but they say it has been slow to get client level numbers back up to pre-pandemic levels.
Both couples have also had children in the past year.
“It’s been a huge undertaking, we’ve been working on [the new business] for a year,” said Sivan, who gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy, nine months ago. The Hirano’s also recently welcomed a child, Sivan said. Katrina has two children.
Roque also had major health issues to overcome as he had his leg broken when he was violently run down by a car during a protest in Manhattan in December 2020.
“I’m just grateful to be alive, to meet my son and to get to open the store and try new things,” Roque said.
The COVID-19 lockdowns did influence their business plan. They leased the 49-20 Skillman Ave. space in 2020 in order to offer Pilates and dance classes like Zumba but they couldn’t open due to the lockdowns.
The plan changed, however, when Sivan was upstate and came across a zero-waste package-free grocery store and felt something similar would be a good fit for the Sunnyside/Woodside area.
“We thought it was a great idea, and we thought the neighborhood would really benefit from it a lot,” Roque said.
“A lot of people in the neighborhood are already very environmentally conscious, there’s a couple of different composting groups and people doing work fixing up gardens and stuff like that.”
They said that the lockdowns, however, left them in debt since they were paying rent on two places and couldn’t use either.
They recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help cover the costs of starting up the new business.
Residents can pledge money to Seed and Oil by Suryaside that will be transferred back to them in the form of a gift certificate. The gift certificates can then be used to make purchases at the store when it opens. All gift certificate holders will get tote bags from the store.
Additionally, a $500 pledge will also entitle gift certificate holders to a 15 percent discount at the store for a year while a $5,000 pledge will net the purchaser a 40 percent discount for a year.
“This is our first retail store so it’s really very daunting,” Roque says laughing.
“It’s definitely a big undertaking for us, but we’re very excited about it.”