ALBANY, NY: A vibrant new bodega was welcomed to downtown Albany with a ribbon cutting ceremony today, June 30, 2021. Joining Owner Kevin Skeen and Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director Georgette Steffens in welcoming Food Near Me to its 87 N Pearl Street location were Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Assemblymember John T. McDonald III, County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, and Capital Roots CEO Amy Klein.
Harlem native Skeen, 28, moved to the Albany area about a decade ago following in the steps of his grandmother and mother. An entrepreneur at heart, he signed a lease for the location in January 2020, planning to open an eatery to help his grandmother realize her dream of owning a restaurant. Once COVID-19 hit, Skeen transitioned the business model and began work to transform the space to be a more energetic and welcoming convenience store, opening the doors to the community in early May 2021. Inspired by the common online search to find something nearby to eat, the idea to name his bodega Food Near Me sparked after Skeen’s former coworker mentioned having done a search for the phrase while out of town.
"I'm thrilled to welcome Food Near Me to North Pearl Street," said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. "A vibrant bodega with convenience store items and great food options is just what downtown Albany needs. All this coupled with Mr. Skeen’s mission to create more jobs and bring people together in our Downtown neighborhood is the perfect combination for success."
“My dream is to be able to open businesses and give people jobs. My favorite thing in the world is helping people and putting smiles on their faces,“ said Food Near Me Owner Kevin Skeen. “The response from this community has been tremendous, and being able to help out neighbors and Downtown businesses has been an inspiring experience. I want to thank the business owners who helped me open, and I look forward to continuing to pay it forward in the neighborhood and beyond.”
The goal to help others in tangible ways is not new for Skeen, who in 2018 started media management company We The Difference, which serves, in part, to help elevate other entrepreneurs and further his goal of creating jobs. Under that umbrella, and through Food Near Me, Skeen is partnering with local creators to help them sell their products and expand outreach. To date, those partnerships have resulted in Food Near Me selling products from more than 10 local businesses, ranging from cookies to t-shirts.
Food Near Me’s interior features a colorful display of hand-painted bricks and murals, a reflection of Skeen’s love of art and desire to make the business look and feel inviting. The bricks, on two walls, took five days to paint, he estimates; the remaining wall space is home to murals painted by local artists Lateef, Rae Frasier, and Sion. Having chosen a Downtown location to tap into the foot traffic and fill the void left by a lack of convenience store in the immediate area, Skeen pulled from his own experience as a youth living in New York City where bodegas are found on every corner and the expertise of local convenience store owners who helped guide him on the process of opening his own.
Complete with everything from household items including toilet paper and cleaning products to bulk candy bins, Skeen didn’t lose sight of wanting to help his grandmother’s dream become reality, and as a result many of the food options at Food Near Me come from recipes created by his grandmother, his mother, and himself.
Among the most popular items are Rasta Pasta, Chopped Cheeseburger, and smoothies, with food options including Caribbean dishes, tacos, and Soul Food. As customer requests come in, Skeen is working to expand what’s available, with fresh packaged meats, Italian ice, ice cream, and a grocery store beer license in the works. A recent partnership with Capital Roots means that fresh produce is available as well, with Skeen looking to expand the fresh food options with an eye toward bringing to Downtown a bodega reminiscent of his youth, which featured barrels of items like strawberries, watermelons, and bananas.
"Thank you to Kevin for investing in downtown Albany and opening this store that is filled with vibrant artwork and fresh food for our residents. It is a welcome addition and resource for the neighborhood and the timing could not be better as we seek to return to normal," said Assemblymember John T. McDonald III. “With many individuals back to work in downtown Albany as well as the significant amount of residential growth over the past few years, I am confident that Kevin and Food Near Me are destined for success since they meet the needs of the neighborhood."
“I am happy that ‘Food Near Me’ is another example of a small business opening despite the challenges brought on during our COVID-19 pandemic,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “This is a welcome addition to Albany as we continue to rebuild, reinvent and reimagine our downtown. Congratulations, Kevin!”
“Finding healthy, fresh food can be difficult for many city residents, which is exactly why Capital Roots’ created the Healthy Stores program 10 years ago,” said Amy Klein, Capital Roots’ CEO. “Food Near Me provides a beautiful location to find a variety of goods in the heart of Albany and is a perfect partner for our program which is made possible by support from MVP Health Care. The Healthy Stores Program provides infrastructure, marketing and fresh food delivery so our partner stores can sell top quality produce at a low cost.”
"One of the most impressive feats we continue to experience in Downtown is business owners shifting their plans to meet the needs of the growing neighborhood, with Kevin setting a great example of how determination and hard work lead to amazing and engaging results,” said Georgette Steffens, Downtown Albany BID Executive Director. “Kevin’s dedication to help to bring his grandmother’s dream to fruition is inspiring, and we are excited to welcome Food Near Me to Downtown and for their future growth as events return and residential continues to grow.”
Located at 87 N Pearl Street, Food Near Me is open Monday-Thursday 8:00 AM-10:00 PM, and Friday-Saturday 8:00 AM-2:00 AM, and closed Sunday. For more information, follow the business on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/foodnearmellc/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FOOD-NEAR-ME-LLC-101969998736247